PORCH Chicagoland North Responds to Increased Need During School Breaks
Every month since it was founded in October 2020, the team at PORCH Chicagoland North has picked up non-perishable food from neighbors and distributed it to local pantries. But when their partner pantries communicated that summer was an extra tough time – especially for families and the unhoused youths they serve who cannot rely on school meals during the academic break – the chapter’s leaders brainstormed a way to offer supplemental support.
Last May, co-founders Erin Molk, Terri Feldman, and Fran Pine decided to raise additional funds and proportionally distribute the money to their three pantries. That way, the pantries’ staff could have the dignity of choice – they could choose to buy specific items they needed to distribute, or pass funds or gift cards directly to the people they serve. ”We like to empower the pantry,” Erin says.
A Time-Sensitive Call for Help
The co-founders sent an email to supporters with a link to a special donate button tied to the summer fundraising initiative, dubbed the “summer meal program.” They illustrated the effect of a donor’s gift: $300 would fund a summer of meals, while $25 would provide a week of meals. In all, PORCH supporters donated $3,835.
Fran says the PORCH audience responds well to quick pivots like the summer meal program. “I think when we do things in real time … people know there’s a time-sensitive mission, and they step up to do whatever we need at that time.”
“So many of us have the privilege of not thinking about [the additional challenges summer can bring],” Erin says. “And when you start thinking about it, you realize: ‘Wow. Some people really need this. And I can help.’ … We are getting educated, and we are educating our donors, too. They are really interested in getting educated. It’s not just doing it – but why you’re doing it.”
“We just want to help as many people as we can,” says Terri. “When there’s a need, we want to fill it.”
The co-founders say that they will likely unveil similar initiatives during the winter break from school.
“We are always communicating with our pantries,” Fran says. “They are always telling us what their needs are. So I think this is an ongoing effort.”
A Flexible, Inclusive Model
It’s no coincidence that PORCH Chicagoland North launched at the onset of Covid.
Erin had known PORCH Chapel Hill-Carrboro co-founder Debbie Horwitz for years. When she saw people lining up in her Illinois community to receive food in 2020, she wondered if she could start a PORCH chapter in her backyard. She recruited her longtime friends, Terri and Fran. She talked to Debbi and consulted with the team at PORCH Communities, about PORCH’s replicable model of hosting monthly non-perishable food drives to help fill the gaps in the local food bank system.
The three co-founders pooled their contact lists and sent an initial email to 300 people. On their first collection day, they had about 35 donors. Today, they have more than 200 donors on their list. They are working on adding a fourth pantry to their roster. Seven volunteers fill the role of Neighborhood Coordinator, driving around to pick up non-perishables from 10 to 15 houses on collection days.
Their largest pantry partner – COOL Pantry – serves about 2,000 people per month and now brings a massive truck to pick up donations. The PORCH team fills it every time.
The chapter is responsible for more than 80,000 pounds of donated non-perishable food items over the past two years. They have received cash and gift card donations totaling more than $7,000.
Fran says donors and volunteers love that PORCH operates without applying pressure. People jump in and out of the rotation, based on life circumstances and travel schedules. If they aren’t able to set food out on their porch, they can Instacart some items to one of the co-founders or donate a grocery gift card. “People who would normally be afraid to commit aren’t afraid to commit because of our model,” she says.
Jump Right In
What would Chicagoland North’s advice be to someone thinking of getting a PORCH chapter off the ground in their neck of the woods?
“Just do it,” Erin says. “It seems a little daunting. Even for first few months, I’d have butterflies the night before our pick-up day.”
“We jumped right in,” Fran adds. “If you overthink it, you won’t do it.”
Sharing the Victories Along the Way
The Chicagoland North team also recommends sharing goals and small victories with supporters. Convey how much food you collect in a given month, make it clear that you are thinking about adding a pantry, and celebrate the fact that you are adding donors.
“By communicating the progress, your audience gets caught up in a wave of success,” Fran says. “That helps.”