Mid-Ohio Foodbank shifting to a client-centered, holistic model

The Mid-Ohio Foodbank wants to create a client-centered food distribution model.

“The big shift was a client who said to us, ‘I cannot afford to shop at a food pantry,’” says Matt Habash, president and CEO.

She couldn’t afford to take a day off work. Habash says about half of Mid-Ohio Foodbank’s clients work, so convenience is crucial.

PantryTrak also tracks where clients originate and how often they visit, Habash says. Even when you dial into inner-city neighborhoods, 36 percent of people come once a year, and 70 percent come five times or less.

“So, they’re coming when life happens,” he says.

Under its new strategic direction, the organization is working on the root causes of why people are hungry and how to create a hunger-free and healthier community.

Proving the case

As the food industry moves toward zero waste and donations drop, food banks are shifting toward fresh, perishable food. Improved logistics are also helping them gain access to the billions of pounds of crops left in fields each year.

The Mid-Ohio Foodbank is going a step further, factoring in health outcomes. For example, its research with Bristol-Myers Squibb and Feeding America proved when it gives produce to diabetics, it can lower A1C levels. Higher A1Cs mean poorer blood sugar control and a higher risk of diabetes complications.

Another shift is expanded access. The United Methodist Church for all People, at Parsons Avenue and Whittier Street, acquired a nearby drive-thru beer distributor. It’s now a fresh food market, which tripled the produce the Mid-Ohio Foodbank moves in that area.

Next steps

Pilot programs have shown that increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables is a low-cost, high-value health care strategy. Habash says the next step is getting the health care and corporate communities on board.

The Mid-Ohio Foodbank is starting a capacity-building campaign called Community Response to Ending Hunger. He says the goal is to convince partners to move out of church basements, while pooling resources. Reynoldsburg is a good example. It has many food pantries. The monthly hours of service are collectively less than 80. If the community had one 60-hour-a-week operation, it could have 240 hours of service.

“The new part we’re going to try to embark on is to create a grocery-store experience in a series of, hopefully, hub locations around the community that will be open 40, 50, 60 hours a week, instead of pantries that can only be open a few hours a week or a month,” Habash says.