The exercise also showed something else: The power of data to better target relief efforts.
Chief executive Nancy E. Roman said the nonprofit has launched several initiatives to get food to the scattered pockets of hungry. It has started deploying some of its fresh food stocks to outlying distribution hubs run by its charity and church partners, bringing the produce closer to the people. It’s running a bus around Prince William County to deliver lunches to some 300 low-income children who may be missing their free or subsidized meals now that classes are out for the summer. It has established fresh food markets in about a dozen schools to make produce even more accessible to urban dwellers.
“You can’t eat healthy without health food,” Roman said.
Such efforts are only the start as the food bank applies its version of Big Data analyses to the problem of hunger. The nonprofit already has overlaid its map of service gaps with data showing places where business is percolating. The idea is to identify potential business partners in those neighborhoods and rally them to the cause.
The timing could be fortuitous. “Wellness” is becoming a mantra in corporate America, and many companies are taking a new interest in social works as a way to recruit and retain from the wave of millennial wunderkinds now entering the workplace. (Just check out our recent roundup of Top Workplaces in greater Washington).
“The funny thing about employees: They turn out to be people,” Roman said.
People who are often interested in serving the communities around them. Roman hopes to create a network of business leaders and “neighborhood captains” to advise the group, and let ideas for new services bubble up from the people closest to the need.
“When you start talking to partners you often find answers that are better than your own,” Roman said.
Think of it as bringing fresh eyes on the problem.