Food Insecurity in Our Community

Welcome to the sixth installment of the Everyday Philanthropist. This month we hear from Sheri Sander-Silva, FOCP Executive Director, about food insecurity in our community. She shares about the prevalence of this issue and the work her team does to eradicate it.

At MAF, we believe that anyone has the ability to share their community for good and experience the joy of giving. Please sit down, get comfortable, and enjoy this issue of the Everyday Philanthropist—we’re delighted to share it with you!

Sheri serves as the executive director of Feeding Our Communities Partners (FOCP), a local nonprofit with a focus on solving youth hunger. Within her role, Sheri is responsible for the consistent achievement of FOCP’s mission and vision including organizational leadership, fund development and financial oversight, grant writing, public relations and partnership cultivation. Her small team of seven accomplishes its work with the helping hands of over 2,000 community volunteers each year.

What is Feeding Our Communities Partners (FOCP)?

FOCP has a mission to engage our community in solving youth hunger. We envision a community in which hunger is not a barrier to success and believe that squelching hunger allows for ultimate success during the school day.

FOCP fulfills this mission primarily through the work of the BackPack Food Program (serving elementary students), Power Pack Program (serving middle school students), Summer Pack Program (serving K-12 students) and onsite food pantries for High School students. These programs provide youth hunger relief on weekends and school breaks, including the summer months. Collectively, FOCP programs serve over 1,200 students each week at 35 school buildings within 6 school districts and 13 communities in south central MN.

What is the need in the Greater Mankato Area for your services?

One thing that we have learned in our line of work is that hunger does not discriminate. Many families in the Greater Mankato Area are living on shoestring budgets. With the added challenges of inflation, one unexpected cost can completely unravel an already tight budget. Sadly, research and testimonials reveal that one of the first cost-sacrifices made is adequate and nutritious food.

Hunger is not a new problem, but a severely misunderstood one. The stigma surrounding hunger perpetuates the cycle of hunger and poverty and does not allow our communities to thrive. As the need continues to grow, our services have evolved to provide hunger-relief programs year-round and fill additional meal gaps, as able.

How does FOCP fit with other local hunger relief programs?

Within the alleviation of youth hunger, school districts serve as the largest and most accessible resource. The Universal School Meals Program is going to be a game-changer for families. FOCP services are meant to supplement other accessible meals, with a focus on out-of-school hours. Though we partner with many other social service agencies in hopes of connecting families with the resources they need, our focus is to serve youth directly eliminating barriers to the nutrition they need to succeed.

Since our inception in 2010, our programs have grown each and every year. With the support of the community, FOCP has extended our offering to include additional ages and to cover a wider territory. We have also stepped in to fill additional service gaps, as needed.

In the summer of 2020, with the power of community partners, we implemented our Summertime Outreach Meal Program (STOMP) to provide fresh weekday meals via mobile outreach sites for children 18 and under who live in area food deserts. Mankato Area Foundation was a leading partner and champion for this effort, which has continued to grow in its service numbers year after year.

What’s something special or unique about FOCP that you want people to know?

Many people don’t realize that our programs are not state or federally funded. Our programs are reliant upon generous donors and foundation grants. This provides the autonomy to offer our services via a very simple and confidential enrollment process. Families can enroll or un-enroll at any point during the year.

FOCP is also proud to offer special diet menus that honor major food allergies and meet the needs of religious food requirements, ensuring that food access is equitable for all.

How can people help support FOCP?

The beauty of FOCP is that there are limitless opportunities to support our efforts. Because of our small team, we absolutely rely upon dedicated volunteers to pack and distribute food year-round. We also rely on volunteers to assist with our three annual fundraisers and luckily, our communities are full of compassionate volunteers that show up time and time again. There are also opportunities to donate to support the ever-growing need. Though we have many tremendous in-kind partnerships, food is by far our largest expense.

What is your favorite project or initiative of MAF?

Mankato Area Foundation has supported many worthwhile and impactful projects. A personal favorite has been the creation of the Women’s Giving Circle. I’ve worked in nonprofit my entire professional career and know firsthand the power of philanthropy. One of the things that has kept me in the nonprofit sector is the strength of connecting shared passions. FOCP lives by the motto “When action meets compassion, lives change.” I’ve watched this breathe truth time and time again. The Women’s Giving Circle is a great example of how like-minded, caring individuals can collectively make a big impact.