In order for local food pantries to better serve the Richmond area, they need to reevaluate and adjust current practices to better suit their clients’ needs. Richmond has many key factors, such as our transportation system, that gives its urban community many unique struggles. When you compare that “urban pantry clients believed they were least safe” (Garasky 2004) with Richmond’s restricting and unsafe bus lines, it shows an example of one of Richmond’s unique food acquisition problems. Another problem to consider is the effects of having a lower income can have on the food pantry user. Studies have shown that urban areas in Virginia, such as Richmond, have higher unemployment rates and lower average incomes than the areas around them. This shows that an effort to go out of the way and provide special programs will be needed in order to attract and educate the general public within the city.
Agencies should try to find more effective ways to engage the local community. The targeted audience should not only be food pantry users, but the community as a whole. Creating trust between pantry users and pantry supporters is key for ensuring long-term commitment from both parties. A great example of an organization using its staff to reach out and engage the community is the “Meals on Wheels” program. By sending volunteers into the homes and neighborhoods of pantry users it not only creates a personal bond between the organization and their users, but makes up for the lack of transportation within the city.This kind of interaction and exposure can only lead to a greater amount of awareness and interest in the members of the community of all ages.
In working with food pantries in Richmond we’ve noticed a major similarity in pantry users and their access to food and support. They tend to live in areas either too far from the city center or in high rent low income areas. We believe the best remedy for this issue is to create pop up food pantries. Bi-weekly or monthly pop-up food pantries could gather many local partners like a farmers market in strategic locations to help serve people. The food would have to be sold at a reasonable price point and it will also be a great way to get the community excited about nutritional foods.
Another idea is a “Produce Bus.” An organization like Shalom Farms could potentially incorporate this idea into their business structure by delivering items such as fresh produce, that other pantries have in short supply. Sending out relief through channels like a “Produce bus” could boost community awareness, appreciation, and engagement in relief efforts. Individuals within the community could purchase or receive fresh produce easily and effectively, while building their relationship through personal, more memorable experiences. The bus could create a more “shopper like” experience and seem more welcoming to pantry users that are embarrassed by having to go inside a food pantry. The bus could even sell discounted produce to other local residents to help reduce the costs of living, and support the long-term financial and nutrition growth of the community. The main objective of examples like the produce bus is to build strong relationships, built on trust, between the community and those who provide the support and means to make it happen. The bus should act as key tool to expose and engage members of the community to channels offered by Shalom Farms. By going into their homes and lives it shows them that you truly care on a more personal effort and are willing to put in the effort to be heard and recognized. By engaging people where they’re most comfortable they will be more willing to listen, and more interested in learning.
Getting the word out is also important. If food pantries could publicize everything that they offer and where they offer it at, maybe that’ll actually be really helpful and that could draw a bigger crowd to come out. The more people know the better. However, you have to consider that the people in which you are helping may not be able to see things via email, or a website, therefore, that’s when you have to think outside the box. Different types of publicity is always a great thing, and even if we live in a modern society where technology is taking over, the basics of publicly is still working. You could do things such as making flyers, have postcards mailed to people, maybe doing build boards over the community in some part, etc.