Taking a look back at 2020

December 10, 2020

From a global pandemic to an economic crisis to increased focus on and protests about racial inequities, Challenge grantees have navigated challenges and untangled some complex webs in order to execute their projects and foster opportunities for resident-leadership and cross-sector collaboration.

Fortunately, the Challenge community remains resilient and turns to tools provided by our network in order to better adjust to the challenges of 2020.

As food insecurity rates and the need for health services surged across the nation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, teams regularly reevaluated how their proposed projects could meet both current and future health needs of their community through our monthly 1:1 calls. Grantees had collaborative conversations through our peer learning network on how to reframe equity into their work and address longstanding barriers to improved health outcomes. Their use of Challenge resources to adapt to the evolving circumstances surrounding our nation’s food and health systems has set the stage for systems-level changes.

Despite having only started in July, teams have also accomplished plenty thus far, from hiring and training community health workers to commencing farm to family food distribution programs. Some examples:

  • In Cumberland County, a local Ft. Bragg resident now works as a community liaison to oversee the community engagement strategies of their project and coordinate the development and growth of their food policy council where once there was no staff. 
  • In Chula Vista and Cleveland, teams have hired new community health workers/navigators to improve food resources and support services to local residents. 
  • In Orange County, the Department of Health has set up contracts with the county, hospitals and other local agencies to distribute food coupons to food insecure residents, thus increasing their purchasing power for produce at local farmers markets.

Other communities have leveraged learning opportunities unique to the Challenge, such as organizing ad hoc sessions with teams that have similar project focus areas. For example:

  • Partners from News Brunswick, Deerfield Beach and Paterson held a discussion on school-based initiatives and how they can be reframed to meet the current conditions surrounding virtual learning. 
  • Kerrville and Deerfield Beach connected around how to resource food for new food pantries during a time when food banks were overwhelmed and unable to accept new partners. 

Meanwhile, others continue to take advantage of opportunities presented in Challenge communications to expand their projects. Through our monthly newsletter, partners in Wheeling learned of a symposium for backbone organizations that led them to reexamine their partnership model and hire a coordinator selected by their team’s youth board to oversee their new coalition.

There is much more to look forward to from each of the Challenge communities in the coming years. Still, it is important to take a step back and acknowledge our project teams’ current victories, both big and small, in these challenging times. Each project team is on the front lines of changing system dynamics now to address local health challenges and advance health equity. Systems change doesn’t happen overnight, but the path forward becomes clearer with each new connection and conversation.

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