What’s the 211? The Social Service Directory Problem.

Bread for the City provides a lot of services — but we can’t do everything. People often come to us in search of services that we don’t actually provide. Sometimes, they were sent our way with incorrect information transmitted not just by word of mouth but other non-profits and even government agencies.

Our community does have many resources to offer people in need. But it’s often hard to know where to look.

So, at considerable cost of staff time and energy, Bread for the City has developed our own internal directory of the many resources available to DC residents in need. It demands continual upkeep, and we devote substantial staff time to it. The amount of external requests that we receive for this resource guide suggests that we’ve done a good job in its development. Yet there have almost certainly been instances in which we’ve sent our own clients off with incorrect information. The problem is simply too big for us to solve alone.

The problem, of course, is age-old. But we believe that, what with modern information technology, a better solution is due.

Indeed, some comprehensive directory initiatives have popped up in jurisdictions where the government has tried to gather all of the information about available resources into one repository. The DC government itself has made some attempts to solve the problem before, by way of the Answers, Please! / 211 initiatives. But our impression of that program — which seems to be shared by other service providers — is that there was little effort made to update and expand the information. Furthermore, this government initiative didn’t meaningfully engage with the community of service providers. As a result, the Answers, Please! directory was not especially useful — and it quickly became outdated.

There was some movement during the previous administration to reignite this effort. But though a prototype was developed, we’re told that the Fenty administration didn’t manage to bring the project to fruition. We believe that the Gray administration could revive this project, in what could be a quick and effective “win.” (We’ll even offer them, pro bono, a tagline: “Many Resources, One City.”)

That said, though this initially seems like it could best be spearheaded by the government, we’ve also seen quite a few attempts from the private sector.

In fact, Bread for the City has been actively involved in the development of two of the more notable recent initiatives — both the DC Food Finder (a free-and-low-cost food resource locator that we helped build as part of the Healthy and Affordable Food for All Coalition) and the BRIDGE Project (an initiative of of students and faculty of The George Washington University’s Human Services Program, whom Bread for the City advised throughout the course of the project’s development).

Each of these platforms, however, face serious challenges of sustainability and scalability. It’s simply difficult to manage so much information, so much of which changes often.

We believe that we can find better solutions. We’ve even dreamt here on this blog before about such wild ideas as a “Yelp for Social Services.” Let’s strive for such solutions by fostering an open dialogue involving the public sector, the non-profit sector, and dedicated technologists. There is no better time to try than now, as government and nonprofit resources are stretched to the breaking point even while demand for services is increasing. We are unlikely to make it work all in one fell swoop, but a spirit of openness and collaboration could put us all on a path to a future in which all the information about the resources in our city is readily available and accountable.

So tell us: what would you want in such a community resource portal?

Next, we’ll gather in person to talk about these challenges and opportunities. Join us, Susie Cambria, the BRIDGE Project, and others for a conversation here at Bread for the City (1525 7th St NW, 20001) on Monday May 23rd from 4:00-5:30pm. RSVP with me at gbloom [at] breadforthecity [dot] org.

Building movement toward a nourishing D.C.

This post is the fourth in a series from Bread for the City intern Allison Burket exploring the basics of food, hunger, and politics in the District.

In my previous post about food and hunger in the District, I began to explore the political landscape of DC’s food system. We learned there is no shortage of DC agencies that shape how we get food – at least 13 agencies deal with food in our city! – yet no one agency or governing body is responsible for ensuring that DC residents have access to healthy, affordable food.

Meanwhile, moving beyond the public sector, there are numerous efforts throughout the food system to ensure DC residents can enjoy healthy and affordable food.

Here at Bread for the City, we provide fresh, healthy, and tasty groceries for residents through our new-and-improved food pantry, as well as programs like Glean for the City and our new rooftop garden.

And we know of (and work with) many other exciting programs in the community. Healthy Solutions manages a produce buying co-op and runs fresh produce markets in public housing sites East of the River. DC Central Kitchen combines meal preparation for area shelters with innovative job training programs and employment opportunities for its clients, while also supporting local farmers. Common Good City Farm is growing and selling food right in the city, using its farm in LeDroit Park as a community space for sharing food production and preparation skills with neighbors. These and many other groups are improving both the health of our bodies and the health of our communities. (Emphasis on “many”: more than 460 food-related entities are mapped in the DC Food Finder.)
What if they and others could work together better to tackle the interconnected issues of nutrition, employment, poverty, hunger, and the degradation of our environment? What if these groups had a unified voice in the halls of City Council?

A Food Policy Council in DC?

Cities across the country face similar challenges as those in DC – a fractured food policy-making environment, separate organizations addressing different pieces of a broken food system, and lack of transparency and community input in policy decisions. In response, many areas have brought together some combination of non-governmental organizations, citizens, advocates, and government, forming what are often known as food policy councils. (See this DC Food For All post about the Detroit food movement, and the policy council in that city.)

Food policy councils can serve as a forum for food issues, a network to coordinate community action, and a space to address some of the tangible injustices at work in our food system. They do a wide range of work in other cities, counties, and states — from gathering and communicating information about a food system, to crafting policy platforms, to developing collaborative projects to address immediate needs.

Bread for the City is interested in seeing something like a food policy council form in DC, but we also recognize that it will need to include more than policy wonks and non-profit providers if it is to be truly reflective of the interests of our diverse communities. A food policy council would ideally be born of a grassroots, city-wide movement for wellness and food sovereignty that includes residents who themselves have the most at stake in radically changing the food system.

That’s why we’re part of a larger conversation with groups like Groundwork Anacostia, the Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Collaborative, Ecolocity, and ONE DC. Together, we’re hosting a series of brainstorming sessions around the city, starting 3:30-4:30 pm this Saturday at Coolidge High School, as part of Rooting DC – an annual, free urban gardening forum. (Register for Rooting DC by calling 202-638-1649, or learn more about the whole conference by visiting the website.)

We’ll be discussing and envisioning: What would it look like for all DC residents had access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food? What is an idea you have for moving the city, your neighborhood, or your self in that direction? The hope is that the discussion generated from this and upcoming sessions can then shape the formation something like a food policy council – or something completely new and different – in DC. We hope to see you there!

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Federal Nutrition Programs 101

This post is the second in a series from Bread for the City intern Allison Burket exploring the basics of food, hunger, and politics in the District.


As I explored in my previous post, hunger and food insecurity are realities for a startling number of DC residents. Not surprisingly, the ranks have grown in the wake of our economic crisis, and our federal safety net has played an essential part in making sure families can put food on the table during tough times. For that reason, an important piece of building a more food secure DC is making sure eligible DC residents are accessing these programs and that those participants have healthy and affordable options within reach.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the food stamp program, provides food assistance to low-income households across the country. Families and individuals receive monthly benefits on an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card that acts like a debit card and can be used in most grocery stores and retailers to buy food items (excluding alcoholic beverages, household supplies, and prepared meals).

By far the largest of the federal nutrition programs, over 42.9 million Americans received benefits in September 2010, including 128,759 in the District, with average monthly benefits of about $100 per person or about $227 per household around the country. Until recently, all families and individuals with less than 130% of the poverty level in monthly income could apply, as long as they had less than $2,000 in their bank account. “The Food Stamp Expansion Act,” implemented last spring, raised eligibility for DC residents to 200% of the poverty level ($21,600 a year for a one-person household and $44,100 a year for a household of four) and eliminated the $2,000 asset cap. (To apply for SNAP in DC, visit your nearest Income Maintenance Administration office. To find out which service center to go to, call 202-698-3900.)

Healthy Affordable Food For All: DC Food Finder
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Several federal programs focus on ensuring that children receive the nutrition they need to support healthy growth, brain development, and eating habits for life. First, the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (commonly known as WIC), is a preventative program designed to ensure adequate and consistent nutrition for pregnant women, new mothers, babies and children up to age 5. Participants (17,000 in the District this month) receive vouchers through local WIC clinics to buy healthy foods. Nutritional counseling, health screening and referrals, and other nutrition services are available at local clinics through this program. WIC is funded federally and administered locally through the Community Health Administration of the DC Department of Health.

Millions of kids elementary age and older count on meals served in school as their most reliable daily meal. The National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs are another pair of federally funded child nutrition programs designed to ensure students have enough food in their bellies to focus and thrive at school. Through the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), schools are reimbursed for offering meal options that meet certain federal nutrition standards. Participating schools are required to offer free and reduced-price meals to low-income children and to implement wellness policies that promote healthy school environments. These requirements and federal nutrition standards were recently updated as part of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, which also added 6 cents per meal to the level of funding schools receive. In DC, the groundbreaking Healthy Schools Act takes a number of steps to promote better school meals – offering free school breakfast for all students, incentivizing healthier meals, supporting farm to school programs, and more.

Kids can also receive meals at child care and child development centers through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). In DC, all child development centers must serve snacks and supper options that meet certain meal quality standards, or must require that families bring meals that comply with those standards. The CACFP program also funds meals for elderly or functionally-impaired adults at adult care centers.

Beyond CACFP, a collection of additional programs support seniors and persons with disabilities. The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) provides eligible seniors with a monthly food package, and the Senior Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) offers eligible seniors $30 in coupons to purchase fresh fruits and veggies at farmer’s markets. Other programs such as Meals with Friends, which offers group meals for seniors at local wellness centers, and Homebound Meals are DC-specific programs administered by the DC Office on Aging.

Beyond the Benefits

The good news for the District is that not only do these federal benefits protect families from the detrimental impacts of hunger and undernutrition, but they bring in funds that then recirculate in DC’s economy. According to Moody’s Analytics, every $1 of SNAP benefits spent in the community generates $1.85 in local economic activity. Unfortunately, this means when eligible households are not receiving their entitled benefits, DC misses out twice. As of fall 2009, approximately 18,500 eligible individuals were not enrolled in SNAP. For some, language access is a barrier; many others don’t know that they are eligible, have trouble navigating IMA, or don’t think the benefits are worth the time it takes to apply and recertify.

Ensuring sufficient access to these programs is the work of organizations like DC Hunger Solutions, whose report How to Get Food in DC outlines in plain language
who is eligible for what program and what you have to do to apply. (DC Hunger Solutions also provides print copies of this report – call (202) 986-2200 ext. 3041) The DC Food Finder, a project of several different organizations, includes information on how and where to access and apply for your federal benefits, as well as a searchable map of affordable food options.

Making sure these federal programs guarantee access to healthy and nutritious foods is another story, however. Are the meals that are served truly healthy and nutritious? Can SNAP and WIC benefits be used at farmers markets and grocery stores? How can the DC government improve these programs? Where do we start administratively or legislatively to support a food secure DC? Join me next time to find out!

Introducing the BRIDGE guidebook

>This is a guest post submitted by Natalie Kaplan and Lee Goldstein of George Washington University. Contact the BRIDGE project at hmsr152project@gmail.com.

After 9/11 we were told that if we had only connected the dots, we might have stopped the attacks. If we had assembled the fragments of information we had, we would have put together a picture. The same is true in understanding poverty. We have to connect the dots among disparate problems faced by struggling families, problems that may not seem related, yet interact and reinforce and magnify one another.

So the concept of BRIDGE, to map the social services available in the Washington area, may give both providers and individuals a way of connecting the dots, of navigating among the varied agencies to address disparate problems. It can provide a gateway into the multiple forms of assistance that many families need.

-David Shipler
Pulitzer Prize Winning Author of The Working Poor

From food pantries and meal programs, to shelters, job training, health services, arts and recreation programs, community gardens, and overall case management, a wealth of non-profit organizations and service providers exist to serve DC citizens in need. But a disconnect often exists between knowledge and access to many of these invaluable services. The BRIDGE (Bridging Resources in D.C. to Guide and Educate) guidebook, a pocket-sized publication created by students in The George Washington University’s Human Services program, seeks to “bridge” these gaps between availability and access to the valuable social services throughout the District.

The BRIDGE guidebook, featuring 64 pages of information about over 550 social service sites throughout the District, is now available for service providers and individuals throughout the District of Columbia.

The BRIDGE Project started a little over a year ago as a serendipitous turn of events. Every year, the students from the George Washington University’s Human Services program help to run the University’s version of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. The weeklong slew of events includes a food drive, poetry slam, Hunger banquet, and culminates in students’ participation in Fannie Mae’s Help the Homeless Walkathon. During the Walkathon in November of 2008, Director and Professor of the Human Services Program, Honey Nashman, approached us with an idea to map the social services available throughout the city. We were given the unique opportunity to serve as teaching assistants and lead this newly formed class project aimed at mapping the social services available in the District of Columbia. We gladly accepted with little idea of how things would turn out, or how big the project would become.

Having worked with multiple organizations throughout our three plus years as Human Services majors at GW, we were able to quickly make contacts at Bread for the City, DC Central Kitchen, and their supporting network of social service providers: HAFA (Healthy and Affordable Food for All). With their guidance, and the foundation provided by the DC Food Finder, we worked with 13 students to collect information, update, and map over 550 service providing organizations throughout the D.C. area.

For more information, or to find out how you or your organization can request copies of the BRIDGE guidebook, please contact Natalie Kaplan and Lee Goldstein at hmsr152project@gmail.com. Please visit our website to follow our BRIDGE BLOG and learn more about the current class’s work. From the website, you can view an electronic version of the BRIDGE guidebook and help us track our progress through the Distribution Feedback Form. Additionally, if you find listings that are no longer accurate, information that needs updating, or another site you think should be included, you can fill out the Site Update Form listed on the website as well.

Thank you for all you do to make Washington, D.C. a better community for its residents, and with your help we look forward to making the BRIDGE publication as useful a resource as possible!

Natalie Kaplan and Lee Goldstein of George Washington University
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Helping the Hungry in the Snowpocalypse

>[Cross-posted from DC Food For All]

Last week, Bread for the City‘s two centers were slammed with people coming to beat the snowstorm and pick up supplies of food. (We provide our clients with one package of three days worth of food per month.) As a result, this week is very quiet in our offices.

So we checked in with our fellow organizations to see what is happening. First and foremost, we are concerned about elderly and home-bound people – for whom this isn’t just an inconvenience, but a real crisis!

Some good news from Food & Friends — which delivers meals to people living withHIV/AIDS and other challenging illnessess. They have not missed delivering a single meal to our clients facing life-challenging illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and cancer, so far.

However, with more snow predicted, they need more help!

We seek delivery volunteers, especially those with 4-wheel-drive vehicles. Food & Friends needs 11 volunteers at 10 a.m. and 33 volunteers at 12 noon to deliver meals to our clients. Each route should take less than 3 hours, and we will provide detailed delivery directions to allow you to help us ensure that those in need are served in this challenging weather emergency. Sign-Up Via Email here.

Other good news from Miriam’s Kitchen, which is not only open but also just recently started serving dinner. (More on that development here on the DC Food For All soon….):

We are lucky to have a tremendous core of volunteers that allow us to open no matter the situation. In fact, in our 27 years of service, we have NEVER had to close. Today at breakfast we served 106 homeless men and women, and we expect about the same for dinner tonight.

And the DC Central Kitchen has been working overdrive to make the food that way-over-capacity shelters are serving.

During this week’s record snowstorm, the Kitchen not only produced its scheduled 4,000 meals per day, its dedicated staff, volunteers and trainees were able to produce an additional 2,500 meals per day, over the last five days, assuring that men and women who were trapped in local shelters were provided with healthy and hearty breakfast, lunch and dinners.

Jerald Thomas, the Kitchen’s Executive Chef: “Volunteers and local chefs have been walking in to help. Just today, chefs from Café Atlántico walked over to lend a hand. We also got a $2,000 cake donated when a wedding was canceled. The outpouring of time and talent is amazing.”

Of course, this was a difficult situation before the second wave of snow that is scheduled to arrive in just a few hours. We’re going to be on the look out for important stories and opportunities for people to help out – please share what you know in the comments.

In the meantime, for anyone who is searching for hot meals or other supplies in your area, check out the DC Food Finder to get a comprehensive list of places to start calling. Good luck and stay safe out there!

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The Great Harvest! A Launch Party

>We’re helping to launch a new project: a collaborative community food blog called The DC Food For All, about all things related to DC’s food infrastructure and food culture, looking towards a healthier future for all of the city’s residents.

Umm, the site’s not live yet! But you can already start to make plans to celebrate it, as we’ll be hosting a launch party at the Big Bear Cafe on October 24th, at 5pm.

RSVP here on Facebook, or by emailing DCFoodForAll@gmail.com.

Event details are broken down below.

The DC Food For All presents:
“The Great Harvest”
A launch party for DCFoodForAll.com

Big Bear Cafe, 1st and R street NW

Saturday October 24th, 5pm to 9pm
$15 suggested donation*
Plentiful food and drink! Lots of music! Some speakers!

RSVP on Facebook or by emailing dcfoodforall@gmail.com

*Proceeds will go to support the DC Food Finder, an interactive map of food resources in DC. But we mean the “suggested” part – all are welcome, regardless of ability to donate!

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>Birthday Bash Roundup: Measureable Outcomes

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Dr. Randi with with her son Yonah, daughter Eve, and husband Michael Lieberman. She also has another daughter, Hannah, who isn’t pictured.

Well, it’s the day after our blog’s birthday, and yet I would be remiss if I didn’t add a couple lines about one more set of things we cover on Beyond Bread–the many things we’ve accomplished. Though some of them have trickled into our other roundups (notably our large nutrition initiative, breaking ground on our expanded medical clinic, and the huge success of our Holiday Helpings Drive), others deserve equal recognition.
 
Just before our blog launched last year, we hired Sharon Feuer Gruber, our Nutrition Initiative Adviser. Working part-time, Sharon has an incredible number of projects she’s working on. She worked with Ted to make sure all of the food in our pantry is as nutritious as possible. She’s the force behind our most recent gleaning initiative–in fact, it was her idea! She’s also the contact for all of the local farmers. She heads up the cooking classes and facilitates other programming through our Fit for Fun program, AND has been a regular contributor to this blog since we first launched. Her “Nutrition Minute” breadforthecity.blogspot.com http:>
 
We also worked with the Healthy and Affordable Food For All coalition to launch the DC Food Finder–a resource that allows both non-profit staff and low-income residents to find a number of food access sites from anywhere in DC. Our guy Greg, an editor of this blog and BFC’s current contact person for HAFA, is currently doing webinars on how to use this hip, new tool to greatest advantage.
 
I would consider it a large oversight if I didn’t mention that our Dr. Randi Abramson also won the prestigious American Medical Association’s Pride in the Profession Award this year!! This is a huge honor since the Pride in Profession award is very competative–only a handful of people get it every year. Dr. Randi was the first full-time doctor at Bread for the City 19 years ago. Indeed, she was the only doctor on staff until a few months ago when we hired Dr. Joan E. to ramp up for the expansion. Loved by patients, volunteers, and staff members alike, Dr. Randi truly deserved this recognition.
 
Staff members from multiple departments also helped make our voter registration drive a great success during the election season, and helped us respond early to WMATA phasing out paper transfers.
 
I guess that wraps up or blog birthday. Thanks again to all of the readers and volunteers who have helped make this a successful endeavor!
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