by Kristen Troy
The outside of 222 Lake Drive in Newark, DE, appears as just another large building. But there is much to offer inside and beyond its walls. Driving up to the Newark location of the Food Bank of Delaware, I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, once inside, my amazement grew with every room I walked in. You may think that a food bank would be shelves of canned goods, but the Food Bank of Delaware is so much more than that! The Food Bank of Delaware is a one-of-a-kind facility that provides the local Delaware community with food assistance, nutrition education, volunteer opportunities, fresh produce and locally sourced items, and career development programs!
At the end of 2019, the Newark Food Bank of Delaware moved to a new 80,000 square foot warehouse with 11 loading docks plus 5 acres of farmland. This move proved valuable during the COVID pandemic because they needed the space to serve the growing number of Delawareans in need of food assistance. Beyond their warehouse space, they have their healthy food pantry, volunteer area, kitchen, classrooms, cafe, farm stand, and an active 5-acre farm producing various crops!
The Food Bank of Delaware promotes healthy alternatives to the typical shelf-stable canned and boxed goods. Inside, it resembles a small grocery store designed to help people find the items they are looking for and to feel more like shopping than charity. Shopping operates on a point system. Shoppers are each given a designated number of total points to spend. Each item at the food bank has a point value, and the healthier food options cost fewer points than the alternatives. For instance, whole grain options are fewer points than the white, enriched alternatives. The point system helps to promote more nutritious food choices and better overall nutrition. In addition to the point system, the food bank has its own nutrition team. This team compiles information on each item’s nutrition in the store, plus tips and recipes that utilize the food provided.
The healthy pantry is currently operating in a drive-through manner. People in need of assistance will drive up to the loading dock outside the pantry, and someone will bring a cart full of options out to their car. Sixty-nine percent of the drive-through pantry participants did not need assistance before the pandemic. The drive-through has been the safest and most effective way to operate during the ongoing pandemic, but they are hopeful to open the healthy pantry again soon.
Over the last year, many families could not travel to the Food Bank of Delaware to use their food assistance programs. To provide for as many people in need as possible, the Food Bank of Delaware formed partnerships with Amazon in Fall 2020 and DoorDash in Summer 2021.
Through Amazon Flex, individuals who cannot leave their homes or who are without transportation can receive non-perishable food boxes each week. The DoorDash partnership helps to deliver food to individuals within a 15-mile radius of the Newark Warehouse. In addition, the Food Bank is setting up storefronts in other areas of Delaware to expand its reach with DoorDash.
The farm at the Food Bank of Delaware focuses on maximizing crop yield and environmental sustainability. The 5-acre farm consists of field crops, five tunnels, a propagation house, a native plant area, and a garden to show visitors the different gardening methods.
The propagation house gives plants the start to promote healthy growth before being planted in the fields and has on-site beehives for pollination. The crops harvested from the fields get distributed through the community-supported agriculture program, sold at their on-site farm stand, and incorporated into the food provided to those who visit the healthy pantry.
To further community outreach, the food bank has an educational garden space. The garden gives examples of different planting styles that work well for a variety of plants and spaces. They also have received donations of native plants from the Mt. Cuba Center located in Hockessin, DE, to create a garden of local plant varieties.
They work with the local community to teach gardening techniques and tips for growing one’s own food. In addition, the garden sells starter plants to partner agencies, community gardens, and individuals who wish to start a garden of their own.
Interns and volunteers largely maintain the farm, so if you want to help the local community have access to fresh and local produce, consider signing up! Go to www.fbd.org/food-bank-farm/ for more information.
Community Supported Agriculture
To help facilitate produce distribution, the food bank has a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to provide Delawareans with various fresh fruits and vegetables. By joining the CSA, you’ll enjoy locally-grown produce for 22 weeks, starting at the beginning of the summer. Full and half-share options are available; a full share contains 8 – 10 items, and a half share includes 4 – 5 items. While the Summer 2021 CSA share season is almost over, keep an eye out for their winter CSA and Summer 2022 share. Reservations are required before the start of the season!
The CSA is an excellent opportunity for the community to support locally-grown food and the Food Bank of Delaware.
There are even shares available for people needing food assistance.
To learn more about their CSA program and to reserve your share, go to www.fbd.org/csa/
Community Outreach And Training
The Food Bank of Delaware wants to empower low-income families to make healthy food decisions on a limited budget. Therefore, the organization educates families through the SNAP and WIC education programs. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and is the largest federal nutrition assistance program, providing eligible families with benefits via an Electronic Benefits Transfer card. The SNAP education program educates individuals and families on making healthier choices by improving access to healthful foods and conducting free, evidence-based nutrition education classes about healthy eating and physical activity. They also have an outreach team that helps SNAP application assistance.
WIC stands for Women, Infants, and Children. It is a federal program that aims to safeguard the health of low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding women and children up to five years old who are at nutritional risk. The WIC outreach program addresses nutrition topics specific to that demographic and how to plan and prepare nutritious meals for their families.
The Food Bank of Delaware additionally works with the Stand By Me program to help Delawareans become more financially literate. This free program includes a personal financial coach to help individuals understand their finances, make good financial decisions, and achieve financial security.
There are multiple workforce training programs and certificate opportunities through the food bank. The first program began in 2002 when the Food Bank of Delaware started its culinary training program. This program has seen more than 800 graduates since its start. It is a 14-week course designed to teach participants skills needed to work in the culinary fields and become ServSafe© certified. In the last two weeks of the program, the participants are placed in a paid work experience. In addition, the culinary program includes other career-building skills such as resume building, conflict resolution, and financial literacy.
The food bank also started a free career training program named L.O.G.I.C. in 2018. L.O.G.I.C. covers logistics, operations, general warehousing, and inventory control. The program is a total of 11-weeks, with 9 weeks spent training in the food bank warehouse and learning in classrooms and the last two weeks in a paid work experience. Along the way, participants can become certified to operate a forklift, gain an OSHA-10 safety certification, and learn to use other major equipment that they would encounter in a warehousing job.
There is even a summer culinary exploration program for young adults with disabilities aged 16-21 years old. The free summer exploration program gives participants training, an introduction to kitchen safety, cooking experience, ServSafe© certification, financial coaching, and life skills for the kitchen and employment.
Helping Out and Contributing
The Food Bank of Delaware is an excellent place to help those looking to make a difference in the local community. Just as with any food bank, food donations are always welcome. Their most needed items include high-fiber, low-sugar, and low-sodium, not expired, shelf-stable items. In addition to shelf-stable food donations, the food bank takes fresh produce donations from personal gardens. They also have an Amazon Wishlist that you can purchase from to help them stock their most needed food and hygiene products. Monetary donations are also accepted.
If you want to donate your time, the food bank always accepts volunteers. Volunteers can help pack food boxes, sort food donations, assist in the food pantry, help on the farm, help at a mobile pantry, and more! Volunteers are required to sign up ahead of time, but it is super easy. There is an online form where you choose the activity and day you’d like to volunteer. Parents who sign up themselves can bring their children, ages 7 to 15 years old, with them. Anyone 16 years of age and older can sign up and come without a parent. Volunteering at the Food Bank of Delaware is a great way to be involved in the local community. To sign up to volunteer, visit www.fbd.org/get-involved/volunteer/
From food assistance to nutrition education and beyond, the programs and services offered by the Food Bank of Delaware are essential to thousands of individuals and families that depend on them each year. The food bank’s philosophy revolves around not just providing those in need with a healthy meal but teaching them to make nutritious food choices and creating long-term solutions to hunger and poverty. Though the food bank may not be a staple in your day-to-day life, it may be a lifeline for other food-insecure Delawareans – an important perspective for the next time you’re clearing out canned goods from your pantry.