Community Spotlight: 4 Unexpected Learnings from Packing a Paper Bag

On Friday, the team here at the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation visited Food & Friends, a DC-area nonprofit that prepares and delivers specialized meals and groceries (in conjunction with nutrition counseling) to men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-challenging illnesses. Nutrition is a key tool in the treatment of illnesses like HIV/AIDS and cancer, and Food & Friends delivers an incredible 1.2 million meals each year to help support these families at no cost. We're honored to support Food & Friends in their mission. Here are a few important things that they taught us:

It takes more than just nutrition knowledge: Food & Friends knows nutrition, but they also know their clients and their needs incredibly well. Marianne Smith Edge, our Senior Vice President of Nutrition and Food Safety said "I’m most impressed with their passion and commitment to the clients. Their professionalism shows they care and, most of all, respect their clients!" In fact, they started expanding individual meal delivery into family meal delivery when they realized that many clients were giving their food to family members who didn't have enough to eat, and therefore not getting enough nutrients themselves. Now the whole family can be provided for, so individuals don't have to make that difficult choice. Food & Friends also has an amazing commitment to operational excellence- you would have to in order to prepare and deliver more than a million meals a year! 

Packaged foods are essential: Food & Friends does a great job ensuring variety, freshness, safety, and nutrition using a combination of frozen, packaged, dried, and canned foods. We found out that they deliver meals as far north as Hagerstown, Maryland, and as far south as Fredericksburg, Virginia (a total delivery area of nearly 5,300 square miles!), and it's hard to imagine them reaching this incredible scale without using the diverse food options they keep in store. 

There isn't a one-sized fits all nutrition solution: Food & Friends may operate with incredible efficiency, but that doesn't mean that there was one standard item coming out of our assembly line. All their meal planning took into account individual nutritional needs and medical advice, and different foods were color-coded according to different dietary needs, such as diabetic, vegetarian, or dairy-free.

Nutrition is a 365-day proposition: As our Senior Communications Director, Matt Raymond told us, some estimates show that one-quarter of all charitable giving occurs between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, when many of us are understandably more cognizant of those who are in need. But that need continues year-round, and Food & Friends is built to provide constant support. Matt said "it wasn’t until visiting in person that I got a sense of the enormity and impact of their work- it was hard not to be impressed by the scale and efficiency of their operation. Volunteers performed duties with assembly-line efficiency that would have made Henry Ford proud." 

Food & Friends gave us a great and educational volunteer experience. As Marcia Greenblum, our Senior Director of Health and Wellness Communications, said, they "made a simple job of distributing food into bags seem important," and, what's more, they really enriched our own thinking about nutrition from our DC community to around the world.  Want to get involved? They have a ton of volunteer opportunities for both individuals and groups. We hope to see you there!