Then and Now: How a Food Bank Policy Shapes Our Work

by Angela Henry Director of Community Health and Nutrition

The Central Texas Food Bank (CTFB) is helping people in need access healthy foods by sourcing and distributing more Foods to Encourage (F2E) through the implementation of its formal Nutrition Policy for purchased and donated Foods. Like many food banks, before the policy, nutrition education had always been integrated into the work of the Food Bank both in the community, as well as through our staff wellness committee. Having both of these in place, allowed us to move towards a more ‘formal’ culture of health and wellness at our food bank for both staff and the community we serve.

How did we do it?

CTFB formed a cross-departmental committee (including a partner agency representative) to create the policy which allowed us to confirm and capture current practice at a very basic level, an important first step for us. During the monthly committee meetings, we surfaced key differences in points of view – by department, people, etc., which allowed us to think about the challenges inherent in limiting what we accept and/or distribute from multiple viewpoints. We were also able to capture and articulate the rationale behind components of the policy, empowering all staff to better articulate these policies when needed. For example, we created an addendum to our policy to frame the rationale, along with talking points on non-distributed items for volunteers. Other key documents created to support the policy were a Diabetic-Friendly Foods List for partner agencies, F2E definitions, Foods to Limit definitions, etc. The process also informed our discussion about the audiences we would need to consider in terms of expectations, needs, education, communication for donors, volunteers, partners, etc. We learned there were different groups of stakeholders (both internal and external) for whom we would need to develop different education strategies.

Finally, the process allowed us to think boldly, without pressure to implement immediately – where do we want to go and what will it take to get there? We allowed ourselves to dream big – what is it we ultimately want to be distributing in the future and how can we create short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals to get there? The committee was more comfortable when we decided we would not be flipping a switch over night, but would have a plan in place to eliminate foods of low nutritive value, like sugar-sweetened beverages, over time.

Where do we go from here?

Having a formal nutrition policy in place ensures that health and nutrition are key components of our strategic plan over the next three years. Tantamount to the Food Bank’s success in meeting our plan’s goals is our partner agencies’ adoption of their own nutrition policies. We recognize that our partners must be in alignment if we want to move the needle on the quality of food we are distributing. With that in mind, our nutrition policy serves as a template for partners as they create their own nutrition policies. It also helps build our own confidence as we work toward more robust health care partnerships. As we partner with clinics, it builds their confidence that patients will have access to the healthiest foods to help prevent or manage obesity and/or diet-related diseases.

For us, a formal nutrition policy is a tangible representation of our commitment to changing our inventory, putting the health and wellness of our community members first. Just like the field of nutrition, our policy will continue to evolve over time, and we will continue those discussions about how we can communicate and strengthen our policy to make the most impact on the health of the community we serve.

Click here to see the Nutrition Policy and supporting documents.

Angela Henry is the Director of Community Health and Nutrition with the Central Texas Food Bank, where she has been for seven years. In her role, she is responsible for all nutrition and health-related programming, including the Food Bank’s nutrition education program, on-site gardens and health partnerships.