Camden Food Security Collective Convenes Local Champions Combating Food Insecurity

Camden Food Security Collective Convenes Local Champions Combating Food Insecurity

 

“We really love collaboration, and love when organizations collaborate with other organizations to help tackle an issue.”

Those remarks from Robert Juliano VP, Director of Corporate Giving, WSFS Cares Foundation were just one of similar sentiments expressed at a Funders Convening of the Camden Food Security Collective hosted by Campbell’s at their headquarters in Camden on January 31, 2024.

The event included about 65 Collective partners, supporters, funders, and local officials, such as Camden City Mayor Victor Carstarphen; Assemblyman Bill Spearman; Commissioner Virginia Betteridge; Commissioner Jeff Nash; Dalin Hackley, representing Congressman Donald Norcross; and MacKenzie Belling, representing Senator Cory Booker.

In addition to learning more about the Collective, from its history stemming from Campbell’s Healthy Communities Initiative and its priorities moving into the future, those in attendance heard from the Collective’s research partners, the Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs, and four funding partners, The Campbells’ Foundation, Holman Enterprises, PSEG Foundation, and WSFS Foundation. The WRI team reported on key findings from the community Hubs pilot program, while the funders discussed the reasons their organizations signed on to help the Collective make meaningful change in the communities they serve.

 

The Collective – Working Together Toward a Common Agenda

According to Whitney Buchmann, CFSC Consultant with Illustra Impact, the Camden Food Security Collective is currently made up of 36 organizations and six community residents. This group of cross-sector stakeholders – from the school district to large healthcare systems, from the Food Bank of South Jersey to a multinational corporation – work toward a common vision of increasing food security and equity in the City of Camden by 2031.

And, most importantly, centering community in that work.

“This work is not without challenges,” stated Lavinia Awosanya, Chief Development Officer for the Food Bank of South Jersey, the Collective’s backbone organization. “There were days when our path was not always clear or as certain as we would have liked it to be. However, the ONE thing we were always sure of, is that this work is worth doing. It deserves our attention, it deserves our commitment, and it certainly deserves our investment.”

Buchmann shared the Collective’s Common Agenda, which outlines strategic areas that will be addressed for Camden to successfully move forward toward a food-secure future:

  1. Co-location of community services. By listening to residents, CFSC knows that accessibility and trust are key components to ensure that residents are able to access, receive, and utilize an array of health and social services.
  2. Increasing residents’ financial security through employment, benefits, and housing.
  3. Improving access to nutritious food and the coordination of supplemental food.

 

WRI and the Hubs Pilot

To address all three of those areas, the Collective and its partners launched the pilot of several community Hubs in 2023. The aim of this undertaking was to co-locate varying social, health, and other services within the Camden community in order to deliver immediate mediations to individuals in need. But, to understand the impact of the community Hubs pilot, the Collective turned to its research partners, the Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs.

The Institute’s work is crucial in centering the community’s voice, understanding how residents are impacted, and using that information to co-create interventions that will get the Collective one step closer to its goal of a food-secure community.

The partnership with WRI was founded to support data- and research-driven decision making, agenda setting, and prioritization. So, the WRI team shared its research findings on the short-term community Hubs pilot, sharing opportunities for future consideration, strengths, successes, and lessons learned, all of which will allow the Collective team to move toward next steps, as well as the use and implementation of a shared measurement tool.

2024 Goals and Beyond

With this information in mind, members from the Food Bank of South Jersey followed WRI by discussing goals for the Collective for the coming year. In addition to building capacity within the Collective’s infrastructure, Rose Gaano, Senior Manager of Food Equity, and Sarah Geiger, Director of Programs and Services, discussed the need to create and implement shared quantitative and qualitative metrics of impact and success, and how the group will identify at least one project that aligns with all three pillars at upcoming meetings.

 

Aligning with the Collective Vision – Funders Panel

To create real change takes a lot of collaboration and support. The morning wrapped with a funders panel led by Kate Barrett President, The Campbell’s Foundation, and included Calvin Ledford, Jr. President, PSEG Foundation; Juliano from WSFS Cares Foundation; and Steve Holman Corporate Grants Director, Holman Enterprises.

“The funding partners who gathered to speak to the group exemplify genuine, trust-based philanthropy,” said Awosanya. “These types of funding partnerships lay the foundation for nonprofits to make meaningful policy, systems and environmental change in the communities they serve.”

The key takeaways from these funders was that the collaborative nature of the Collective’s programs are very attractive to organizations who are looking to support collective action and what can be achieved in working together.

“This program collaborates with the residents, the state, local level, plus among all the corporations and foundations,” said Juliano. “I firmly believe that with working as a group collectively and collaboratively that this program will be very successful. And, one day, there won’t be a food insecurity issue.”

WSFS Cares Foundation’s three-year commitment enabled us to award our first grant to support the Hubs pilot. And Holman Enterprises’ multiple year award has funded the research and evaluation work led by the Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs.

“At Holman, we’re trying to think about ways that we can be more impactful with our giving, and this aligned with that trying to be more thoughtful,” said Holman. “We kind of took a leap of faith, and it was it was hard for us, but hearing what we’ve heard today, I think our optimism was well-founded.”

“We (Campbell’s) do a mix of different types of funding, and we realize that supporting more systemic initiatives is not always going to lead to quick, measurable outcomes,” said Barrett. “This work can be very complicated, but we’re investing in the future and trying to make change that will, hopefully, outlive all of us.”

The Campbell’s Foundation’s seed funding has supported vital Collective’s infrastructure work, and funding from PSEG Foundation has also supported the backbone and the costs associated with standing up the Collective.

“The fact that this program isn’t just about feeding someone’s family for that day, in that hour, and that the program has a holistic view,” said Ledford. “The program is about considering wraparound service. The program is about understanding data-driven decision making.”

“We (PSEG) want to help individuals who may be a part of the working poor to be on a positive trajectory out of that position. We believe really strongly in the Camden Food Security Collective.”

 

View photos from the day here

Campbell’s Investment and the Evolution of the Collective

Campbell’s Investment and the Evolution of the Collective

When the Campbell Soup Company launched the Healthy Communities Initiative in 2011, it had a long-term vision that the program would evolve into something more significant than the iconic company alone could achieve.

The company, which has called Camden home for more than 150 years, cares deeply about the community and wants to make a lasting impact through a sustainable program for its residents.

That resulted in a commitment from Campbell’s of 10 years and $10 million, to reduce childhood hunger and obesity.

At the time, an estimated 13 percent of Camden’s residents were living below the poverty line. One grocery store, a few smaller stores, and a network of corner stores created the local food system. Because of its lack of access to healthy food, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority considered Camden a food desert.

When Campbell’s considered where to focus its efforts, it leaned heavily on its expertise: food.

Understanding that one organization would not be able to change hunger and improve the health of Camden’s residents single-handedly, it developed Campbell’s Healthy Communities with a collective impact framework.

The company worked with multiple organizations to develop an approach focused on four strategic areas: food access, nutrition education, physical activity, and public will to engage the community, which was critical to delivering on the program’s mission.

Campbell’s Healthy Communities’ key partners included the Food Bank of South Jersey, The Food Trust, Wellness in Schools, Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, FoodCorps, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, The Greater Philadelphia YMCA, Center for Environmental Transformation, KIPP New Jersey, and Center for Family Services.

Throughout its 10 years, the Healthy Communities Initiative had great success. Some critical impacts of the program included:

Food Access

  • Created the largest network of healthy corner stores in New Jersey
  • Incorporated food insecurity screenings into hospitals

Nutrition Education

  • Expanded national, evidence-based Cooking Matters™ nutrition education classes
  • Created a culture of health across KIPP Camden Schools by placing FoodCorps service members within the schools

Physical Activity

  • Launched the first city-wide after-school sports program, Soccer for Success

Public Will

  • Integrated the voice of local youth into program strategy development through the Camden Youth Advisory Council
  • Engaged residents in issue identification and brainstorming solutions

As 10 years came to an end, the Healthy Communities partners brainstormed about how they could continue the success of the program, using what they had learned and joining together more community members, partners, funders, and government agencies.

The group went back to the idea of a collective impact approach.

The next iteration of the collective would focus on the root causes of food insecurity in the city of Camden – an area of continued need after 10 years of Healthy Communities.  Thus, the Camden Food Security Collective (CFSC) was born.

“Our partners came together to determine the sustainability plan after the formal end of the Healthy Communities program,” said Kate Barrett, President of The Campbell’s Foundation. “They determined that addressing the underlying causes of food insecurity was the biggest priority that this group was uniquely positioned to tackle.”

Campbell’s knew the importance of the community taking the lead. Its legacy would be to take a successful program, bring together nonprofit organizations that were working in the same arena toward a similar outcome, and root the CFSC in the community.

“Campbell’s is proud to have served as the initial funder of the CFSC, work that emerged from Campbell’s Healthy Communities; however, this new initiative has truly been led by the partners and residents of Camden who are best equipped to determine what is needed and how to use the funds to create a lasting impact in the city,” said Barrett.

As CFSC launched around a shared vision and objectives developed by many partners in the community, Campbell’s investment has spurred additional support from other organizations to address food security in Camden. Today, Collective members and dedicated investors are coming together to help improve food access in Camden to create sustainable change for years to come.

Collective Impact: What is it, and how does it help communities?

Collective Impact: What is it, and how does it help communities?

 

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

 

While true that a single person or organization can make a difference on their own, what happens when two join together – or 10 or 20? The impact of teamwork grows the outcome exponentially.

And that is exactly what Collective Impact aims to achieve.

First introduced by John Kania and Mark Kramer in a 2011 article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Collective Impact is based on the idea that many of the most significant and challenging social issues – such as poverty, education, healthcare, and environmental sustainability – cannot be effectively addressed by one organization alone. Instead, they require a coordinated and collective effort involving various stakeholders to achieve true change.

How does it work? With five key pillars:

A common agenda. They work together to define the problem; then, they create a shared vision to solve it.

Shared measurement. All members must track progress in the same fashion to allow for continuous learning and accountability.

Mutually reinforcing activities. While the collective has a shared vision, its members work in different ways. All participants’ activities are thoughtfully integrated to maximize the end result.

Continuous communication. Collectives generally consist of organizations that would normally be competing for the same dollars. When

they come together, it’s important that they build trust and strengthen relationships.

A strong backbone. A collective team must be dedicated to aligning and coordinating the work of the group as one.

Collective Impact Model diagramIn order to create and maintain a sustainable collective, its members should always rely upon the following strategies, weaving them throughout the key pillars:

  • Groundwork in data and context and target solutions
  • Focus on systems change, in addition to programs and services
  • Shift power within the collaborative
  • Listen to and act with the community
  • Build equity leadership and accountability

Now that the partnering organizations have the framework set, the real work begins. While Collective Impact can make a positive contribution and help foster social change, it takes time. One study estimates that full impact can range from 4-24 years. That means the participants must be prepared to invest time, energy, and funds into ensuring its success for the betterment of the community in the long term.


However, when committed to working together toward a common goal, communities can change and flourish.

By now, you’re probably thinking, “Interesting, in theory, but how does this really help the community?”

First and most importantly, Collective Impact allows for shared responsibility. By encouraging multiple stakeholders, from nonprofit organizations to government agencies and businesses to community members, it spreads the burden and ensures that no single entity is solely responsible for solving the problem.

It also increases resources – both financial and human. When organizations work together, they can pool their resources, access new funding streams, and tap into a broader range of expertise and skills, which translates into more robust and sustainable solutions. Plus, these organizations and individuals bring their unique strengths and expertise to the table, allowing the Collective Impact initiatives to develop more comprehensive strategies.

In many cases, organizations working independently may duplicate efforts, wasting resources and time. Collective Impact promotes coordination, ensuring that activities are complementary rather than redundant.

With this common agenda and coordination, Collective Impact initiatives regularly collect data and maintain open communication; they can adapt their strategies in response to changing circumstances or new insights. This flexibility is essential for addressing complex and evolving community issues.

A key part of the Collective Impact strategy is to encourage the active involvement of community members in the decision-making process. This ensures that the solutions developed are culturally sensitive, contextually appropriate, and have the support of the affected communities.

As mentioned above, Collective Impact does not necessarily provide short-term outcomes. Instead, it’s focused on creating lasting change. By addressing the root causes of community issues and involving a variety of stakeholders, it is more likely to develop sustainable solutions that continue to benefit the community even after the initiative concludes.

And finally (and this is a big one), it allows for other communities facing similar challenges to replicate a model that worked elsewhere. Collective Impact teams can share and disseminate effective strategies and best practices with each other – whether regional, national, or even global!

Are you still with us? Of course you are (this is great stuff)!

So, right here at home, there is a Collective Impact solution aimed at addressing food insecurity.

The Camden Food Security Collective is a coordinated community of diverse stakeholders working hand in hand with community residents. Camden Food Security Collective’s members include local healthcare and food providers, public agencies, health insurance companies, community-based organizations, public officials, local corporations, business owners, safety-net food distributors, workforce system representatives, and, most importantly, Camden residents.

In order to reach a food secure future, CFSC will address both food access and supplemental food options. CFSC aims to identify solutions that will foster a robust and equitable distribution of healthy foods. For food access, CFSC will help establish a purchasing Cooperative of small business owners to support bulk purchasing, improve variety, and lower costs. This will be achieved by building upon Camden’s Corner Store Owners Association, an innovative network of Camden corner store owners developed and overseen by The Food Trust, one of CFSC’s partner organizations.

Furthermore, CFSC will strengthen the existing supplemental food network by improving coordination, logistics, and communication systems, to guarantee more frequent, equitable, and predictable access to healthy safety-net foods. One proposed program is establishing a network of “Choice Pantries” across Camden City.

Currently, a pilot led by the Food Bank of South Jersey is underway to help some food pantries move from a drive-through model back to a choice-based model. CFSC will consider opportunities to understand what choice can/should look like in terms of food selection, food availability, how/where/when people can access safety-net food sites, what other services can be provided/co-located at sites, etc. CFSC will also help sites adopt and scale these best practices, focusing on understanding what other options could create more access and awareness to residents.

Join the Camden Food Security Collective on its path to do so much together. We look forward to sharing this journey with you.