Hunger. Food insecurity. Nutrition insecurity. As our understanding of the problem has evolved, the language we use has evolved too. We once thought the problem was simply about a lack of calories, but now we know it’s more about not having enough nutritious food to support body and brain development.
Of course, nutrition insecurity is far from a new problem, and it’s gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic spotlighted the inequalities of food allocation systems that weren’t distributing healthy, fresh, nutritious food to underserved communities. The kind of food that nourishes the mind and body, and is foundational to growth and many other critical human needs, like education, housing, jobs, and transportation. We know that technology can play an essential role in reimagining a new system that benefits families and communities alike.
But technology alone isn’t the answer. A comprehensive solution will require a collective effort, and creative collaboration across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors.
Tech solutions combined with forward-thinking, inspired, and innovative community leaders like Gita Rampersad, vice president of healthcare partnerships and nutrition at Feeding America, and Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell, superintendent of Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), offer a model for how to tackle complex issues.
In episode one of Salesforce.org’s new original podcast series, Force Multiplier, Emmy-nominated host Baratunde Thurston talks about nutrition insecurity with these two dynamic leaders forging transformative cross-sector partnerships to address this pervasive issue.
“With 45% of deaths from heart disease, stroke or diabetes being linked to poor diet, with families facing nutrition insecurities at the highest risk of chronic diseases, and all that further heightened by racial inequities in healthcare, this is a national security issue. It’s a human rights issue. It’s a basic issue of humanity,” says Thurston. “The good news, this change is coming slowly with organizations shifting focus and adopting new policies and programs to promote healthier, more balanced lifestyles to increase options and opportunities, especially for those facing real hunger.”
Episode one of the Force Multiplier podcast is available on all podcast streaming platforms today.
Feeding America’s Vast Network of Partners
With nearly 200 food banks nationwide and offices in Washington D.C. and Chicago, Feeding America is the second largest organization focused on ending hunger in America. And while there are many factors that contribute to 42 million people — including up to 13 million children — not having enough food to eat on a daily basis, it’s a solvable problem that requires innovative cross-sector partnerships like the ones Rampersad and her Feeding America team are building.
“We believe that food insecurity is a solvable social determinant of health and also that access to food just isn’t good enough,” she said. “So we have to come together and come up with a really innovative structure of how we combine health and nutrition education in a way that resonates with communities, that is continuing to preserve the dignity of communities that are facing hunger everyday.”
Multi-dimensional problems require multi-dimensional solutions, and Feeding America is leading the way by partnering with affordable housing groups, community health centers, and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). “One thing that I think is truly innovative and unique to the work that we do is the fact that we are engaged in so many cross-sector partnerships,” Rampersad explained. “Health care partnerships are an essential part of health and nutrition at Feeding America. We work with large health systems and we work with community health centers to try to continue to address food security as a solvable social determinant of health.”
OUSD is Focused on Holistic Student Support
In Oakland, California, Dr. Johnson-Trammell is setting a new standard for the role that schools play, going beyond serving solely as a place of learning in order to support the whole student. And supporting the whole student starts with making sure kids have nutritious meals, which serve as the foundation to learning, playing, and everything else. “All of these pieces have to be in place for all kids to really live out their fullest potential,” Dr. Johnson-Trammell explained.
More than 70% of kids in Dr. Johnson-Trammell’s school district qualify for free or reduced price lunches, and many OUSD students rely on their school for regular meals. To support the needs of these students, and to set a new standard that focuses on the whole student, it takes a diverse group of dedicated partners. “What our vision and mission is all about and the boldness and broadness of it means we can’t do it by ourselves as a school system,” she said.
The result is a model for cross-sector partnerships that span the nonprofit, for-profit, and education sectors, and include the Numi Foundation, World Central Kitchen, and Eat. Learn. Play., a family foundation launched in 2019 by Bay Area restaurateur, Ayesha Curry, and her husband, Golden State Warriors star, Stephen Curry. This collaborative partnership has been responsible for serving up to 13,000 meals per week during the pandemic, and about 15 million meals over the last year and a half — all in service of a collective mission to support the whole student, while proving that establishing strong cross-sector relationships is imperative to solving big problems.
“Operationalizing equity is about what are the concrete things you do to put it into action to make a difference. So it’s everything from mindset and changing the mindset both for yourself and your organization to really thinking about how you’re using your resources differently to really move the needle and transform outcomes for the most vulnerable,” Dr. Johnson-Trammell explained.
Creative cross-sector collaborations are imperative to tackling our biggest problems, like nutrition insecurity.
The Power of Tech to Solve Big Problems
Rampersad and Dr. Johnson-Trammell have both led critical cross-sector collaborations in part by leaning into the power of technology to solve big problems like nutrition insecurity.
Feeding America was flooded with donations that exceeded the organization’s typical capacity, as unemployment and nutrition insecurity numbers skyrocketed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. They realize they need a more robust digital infrastructure to process every donation coming their way and allocate the money to their 200+ food banks and 60,000 agency partners.
With pro bono support from Slalom, Feeding America implemented Service Cloud and Nonprofit Cloud to unify its siloed systems, create greater visibility for its hundreds of food banks across the country, and enhance its capacity for gift processing. The result was a 450% increase in donation processing capacity in the short term, with processed gifts jumping from 6,000 per day to 20,000 per day. The long-term effects have been just as impressive. Feeding America’s gifts and revenue are up nearly 700% from April of last year to April of this year, ensuring that the organization’s critical work would not only meet the moment of last year’s pandemic but that it could sustain increased giving over time.
For Dr. Johnson-Trammell and the students and families at OUSD, technology plays a critical role in quickly and efficiently facilitating the connection between excess produce and families in need. The Eat. Learn. Play. partnership leverages applications built on Salesforce technology — including a food marketplace app from Full Harvest, built on Salesforce Heroku, and a food distribution app built by a team of volunteers at Salesforce.
Ultimately, technology is best utilized as a tool that enables people to do what they do best, said Dr. Johnson-Trammell, “I’m a huge believer that technology is a tool to help bring greater efficiency so that humans can really do what humans can do and technology can’t — which is to spend time making those connections.”
Listen to Episode One of the Force Multiplier podcast, and read more about OUSD’s innovative approach to holistic student success.
About the Author
Chief Engagement Officer at Salesforce.org