The neighborhoods Target Hunger serves faced severe hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic—higher infection and death rates and higher rates of job loss than more affluent parts of the city. From March 2020 to June 2021, Target Hunger’s operations were consolidated to contactless methods which included home delivery, drive-thru disaster distributions, and Navigation Services by phone. In July 2021, we began to roll-out more comprehensive programs and returned to our pantries.
As we continue to transition from emergency operations we are maintaining home delivery to an increased number of families, and are continuing to expand social service navigation support, training additional staff to become Community Health Workers. While these programs adapted well to our emergency focus, they also align with our pre-pandemic strategic vision for doing more to alleviate the long-term structural impact of intergenerational poverty on entire communities. We have also developed a more proactive approach to diversifying our staff so that it better reflects the communities we serve, as we saw first-hand how much more effective our outreach and programs are when clients and staff can connect over shared values and cultural touchpoints.
By including more families in home delivery through a partnership with DoorDash, we were able to make sure families whose work and childcare commitments prevented them from waiting in long lines still received food on a regular basis. Lines are shorter at our pantries, but they can still be difficult to reach given their fixed locations and hours of operation. Home delivery solves that challenge and is especially useful when we find we have a growing need in an area that does not have an easily accessed brick-and-mortar pantry location.
The significant economic and health setbacks the pandemic caused underscored how important social service navigation is to the long-term stability of the families we serve. We aim to accelerate the rate of training for staff, both in getting their CHW certification and in training them to use our constituent relationship management database as effectively as possible. Improving their skills will help them better serve clients over time, as they can set goals, create check-in reminders, and more closely monitor progress. Collecting better and more detailed data will also allow their teammates to take over a relationship with a client and continue to make progress without having to re-learn the client’s background, and help the team uncover trends in aggregate data that can drive improvements and changes in staff distribution across sites and programs, pantry locations, or other program elements.
Our Navigation Services work is about helping our clients, almost all of whom are Black or Hispanic, overcome structural and societal barriers that make them more likely to live in poverty. That is why Target Hunger has become more intentional about removing those barriers where they exist within our own organization. The value of having people from the communities we serve—whether former clients or people whose backgrounds would have qualified them to be clients—is readily apparent in the understanding and values they bring to the work.
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