Mason's Nonprofit Fellows recently spent a day visiting several nonprofits in Washington DC to explore a variety of approaches to social change. With the topic of food insecurity as a central theme through which to compare approaches and solutions, the students spoke with nonprofit leaders who work to address this issue in Washington.
The ultimate lesson is that effective nonprofit organizations do much more than provide services to clients in need. They also collect data, advocate for city-wide policy, educate the public and empower individuals and organizations by building capacity. An effective nonprofit sector works to change the upstream causes of the problems in our communities, while simultaneously supporting those who currently live with those problems.
The nonprofit leaders the Fellows met with are excellent role models, and were candid with the students about the complexity and challenge that comes with work in this sector:
Beatriz Zuluaga, Director of Food and Nutrition for Centroia and DC Bilingual Public Charter School
Through adult and child education, food vouchers and healthy school meals this organization has become a national model for how community organizations and schools can address issues of nutrition in low-income communities. After touring the schoolyard gardens and kitchen, the Fellows learned about the ways that Centroia has worked to influence city-wide policy on nutrition, including a city-wide research study on the quality of food in public schools.
Rachael Callahan, Executive Director of Common Good City Farm
This half-acre of space situated in what would otherwise be an urban food desert produces more fresh produce than traditional farms six times its size. Fresh organic produce is made available either free are at greatly reduced cost. The farm also operates child education programs and a robust youth employment program to high school students.
Paula Reichel, DC Director, Capital Area Food Bank
Students learned about the complex networking among DC's human services organizations in order to support each other's work and to have a collective voice in advocating for better city policies related to food insecurity.
Alexander Justice Moore, Chief Development Officer, DC Central Kitchen
Here, food is described as a tool to reach a mission, rather than being the goal itself. DCCK provides culinary job training to people who are unemployed, many of whom were formerly homeless or incarcerated. Through these students and hundreds of volunteers, they turn donated perishable food into hot meals to be distributed by nonprofit organizations around the city. Halfway through 2014, DCCK had already provided close to 500,000 healthy, made from scratch from locally sourced food, meals to DC schools and soup kitchens. So far in 2014, their graduates have had a 97% employment rate. DCCK is a national model for social change and innovation. They also operate a catering company, have a large public school meals contract and other social enterprises.
November 10, 2014