AmeriCorps VISTA Hunger Free Community Program Focuses on Data to Better Serve Clients

June 14, 2019

Jessi Stevens, AmeriCorps VISTA at Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee

I started serving with Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee (SHFBNT) in August of 2018. I came into this position fresh out of two State & National AmeriCorps terms with SHFBNT’s Summer Food Service Program and looking to continue working to end hunger in my region. Being a VISTA through the Alliance to End Hunger has allowed me to do that and so much more.

Jessi Stevens presents Service Insights initiative at SHFBNT’s annual Agency Conference, April 30, 2019 (Courtesy: SHFBNT)

Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee’s role in the community is to secure and distribute food, engaging the community in the fight to end hunger through regional partnerships, programs, and education. We work with nearly 150 partner agencies in our eight-county service area to provide food for those in need. We are dedicated to helping provide food assistance and helping to stabilize lives in the region for years to come.

In addition to our agencies, we run several programs to help support our mission – Mobile Food Pantry, Summer Food Service Program, Food for Kids Backpack Program, Senior Grocery Program, Mobile Produce Program, Project Thanksgiving, and more – and we are always looking to start and pilot new programs.

As a VISTA, I have had the opportunity to work with some of these great programs and noticed what many of our staff already know: we could know so much more about our clients than we currently do. Consequently, I have been researching solutions and corresponding with other food banks. This is where service insights enters the picture.

Service Insights is a Feeding America initiative that aims to electronically collect data and measures of service from the people we serve. The more we know about them, the more effectively we can serve them. This is accomplished through a cloud-based platform that functions similarly to case management software and securely stores client identification, demographic, and health information allowing users to run reports on a variety of data points.

In this area, I co-wrote a grant application for which we were awarded $43,000 from Feeding America. These funds are being used to purchase the program, supplement agencies with technology, and hire dedicated staff for this initiative. After presenting our plan to participate in this initiative at our annual agency conference, several of our agencies are very eager and enthusiastic to try this new method. As a result, I am preparing to roll out service insights to a pilot group within the next month.

SHFBNT Mobile Food Pantry Distribution (Courtesy: SHFBNT)

By collecting more thorough and detailed information about our clients, we at the food bank hope to gather a more complete picture of what our clients are going through and what causes them to need our services. Eventually, we will be able to refer clients to other services, helping them in more ways than providing food. We also hope to be able to gather insight about the health and cultures of the people we serve. This will allow us to buy and receive donations of more appropriate foods for our clients. Finally, this platform will allow us to have more accurate information across the network and cut out the need to store and submit hardcopy reports.