Notes from The Agency Study: Can you fight hunger in a Honda Civic?

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How much food can you pack into a Honda Civic? Everything is fair game. Go ahead, give it a try.

Answer? 300 pounds.

You can fit around 300 pounds of food into a Civic if you are really creative, slightly flexible, and don’t care all that much about your interior. Trust me, food banks count everything.

On average, our partner agency network distributed almost 400,000 meals every week last year across Metro Atlanta and North Georgia. That works out to an average of 600 meals distributed a week per individual agency to meet the needs of hungry individuals and families in their communities. Each meal averages a weight of 1.3 pounds.

In order to transport all that food from ACFB to their food pantry, soup kitchen, shelter or senior center, just to name a few, over half of our partner agencies used a volunteer’s car. Not a van, truck or trailer. A car.

A Civic, if you will.

Now, some quick math.

How many trips to ACFB do you have to make in your Civic to reach 600 meals?

1.3 lbs. per meal    ÷    300 lb. capacity = 2.6 trips

Rounding up that .6 , you would need to make 3 trips every week to ACFB in your Civic to get the food you need to fight hunger.

That’s a lot of trips, volunteer time and gas consumption. That’s a lot of energy being spent moving from Point A to Point B rather than working with the individuals and families who are actually hungry.

But that is the reality for over half of our partner agencies. In a time of rising demand, our distribution to partner agencies was up 34% last year and they are straining their capacity to continue to meet that rising demand. If the food isn’t where it is needed, it’s not doing anyone any good. And if half of our partner agencies are relying on the capacity of a Honda Civic, then there is a definite ceiling to their ability to increase their service to hungry people in their communities.

This is a problem that we think has a solution (or many solutions in this case) instead of a constraint that we have to live with. We think we can do better.

In fact, we’re actively working on solutions that will increase the transportation capacity of our partner agencies. What if we were able to deliver directly to more partner agencies in Metro Atlanta, so that they only rarely had to pick up food from ACFB?  What if we made more frequent deliveries to non-metro counties so that the time between trips to ACFB for partner agencies was greatly reduced?  What if we facilitated the development of collaborative partnerships between partner agencies that allowed them to combine transportation resources?  What if we were able to offer grants to qualifying partner agencies, or groups of partner agencies, that allowed them to purchase larger transportation resources?

A big part of the work of The Agency Study was clearly identifying the key barriers our partner agencies face, like the size of your Honda Civic, in getting more food to more hungry people.  The work that we are excited about for the future is working collaboratively with our partner agencies to overcome those barriers.

Jon West
Agency Study Coordinator

ACFB undertook a broad study of its 700 partner agencies during 2010 and early 2011. The purpose of the Agency Study was to increase our understanding of partner agencies' needs in the current environment, assess the network’s capacity to meet the emerging challenges, and identify opportunities to increase the sustainability and effectiveness of the network, with the ultimate goal of increasing the food security of low-income Georgians.  You can download the full report on our website.  This is an occasional series of notes and reflections on the data we collected during the study.