Addressing food insecurity in the Dayton area is a collective effort by local organizations and their partnering agencies. Here's how they are helping bridge the gap through programs and educational opportunities.
One organization leading the way is The Montgomery County Food Equity Coalition. Local universities, nonprofits and government agencies operate under six branches of this initiative that address issues within the food system. The goal of the coalition is to decrease food waste and provide access to healthy and affordable food.
Haley Carretta, food system manager for Montgomery County, said their Strong Communities branch, which focuses on building relationships and trust within the community, is essential to the coalition.
"This is really what I like to call the heart of the coalition because this is where we want to make sure that we're lifting the voices of residents most impacted by these issues," she said. “It’s really a good checks and balances for the coalition for us."
The Strong Communities branch also encourages local leadership by giving residents an opportunity to participate in decision making and to nominate community members for their efforts to improve the food system.
Other entities like the city of Dayton lends its help through supporting programs and participating on the Montgomery County Food Equity Coalition board. Commissioner Matt Joseph, a former House of Bread president and coalition board member, said although Montgomery County “takes the lead” on addressing food insecurity, the city of Dayton is always willing to help.
"We're glad to support and whatever we can do, we're going to," he said. "We're always part of any joint efforts."
The city of Dayton also financially contributed to the Gem City Market, which opened in May of this year. Another support area is the Homefull Mobile Grocery, which is currently in its planning process. Homefull is a nonprofit organization that serves the homeless population, but also helps in the food access arena. The city of Dayton is providing financial support to fund the completion of the grocery store.
Building grocery stores and markets in low-income areas are helpful ways to bring healthy food closer to the residents that need it most. Another way to increase proximity to healthy foods is through food box programs, which the Dayton Foodbank offers. The Foodbank helps distribute food to low-income seniors through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), also known as the Senior Food Box program.
Lauren Tappel, development and marketing manager for the Foodbank, said this program is especially useful to seniors.
"Most seniors are on a fixed income, and so [the CSFP] helps them fill in gaps of where their budgets each month maybe fall short," she said.
Other initiatives by the Foodbank include the Good to Go Backpack program which provides children free and reduced lunch. Backpacks are prepared with easy-to-make meals for children to take home every Friday during the school year.
Further collaboration with The Dayton Foodbank is what makes food boxes possible for patients at the Dayton Children’s hospital. Through
The Foodbank partners with Dayton Children's Hospital to offer the Food Script, or Food Rx, program. Patient families identified as food insecure by health care professionals are referred to The Foodbank’s Drive-thru Market. They are then given a food box carrying three day’s worth of food, which Emily Callen, community food equity manager for Dayton Children's, said is enough for a family of four. After receiving a box, families are directed to other food assistance resources, such as SNAP and WIC if needed.
"The whole idea is to provide for an immediate food need while also connecting families to long-term food resources," Callen said. "You can't focus on your medical needs if you're as a family worried about where's my next meal coming from."
Additional resources that Dayton Children's offers are cooking classes from its community teaching kitchen. In-person and online options will begin on Oct. 11, covering topics from meal planning to quick and easy recipes.
Organizations consistently collaborating across Montgomery County can help make an impact when it comes to addressing food insecurity in the area. Volunteers can make an impact too. Elevate Dayton's next article will look at how residents can get involved in this effort.