‘It has changed our world.’ The Impact of COVID-19 on Cleveland’s Food System
As communities across Cleveland began to experience the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19, FARE reached out community leaders and organizations on the front lines and asked them to identify the critical needs and gaps in their communities related to food access and other social determinants of health. Through 32 interviews with partners and community advisors, FARE examined the current response to the pandemic through a health equity lens to see how it’s functioning at the community level, who it’s serving, what the actual needs and assets are, and where resources would have the most impact.
We learned that these smaller organizations and businesses are incredibly resilient, resourceful and nimble and are pivoting to address real needs beyond food access in their communities because of their trusted relationships with residents, particularly those that are the most vulnerable. They are also underfunded and under resourced in their ability to meet current and future needs. We also heard the need for an investment in a coordinated response to create collaborative place-based networks of providers and leaders in these communities to ensure organizations are not acting independently of one another and creating redundancies when resources are stretched thin and the long-term economic impact of this pandemic is still unknown.
This report contains a summary of the major themes that emerged from these interviews and recommendations for the local philanthropic community, decision makers and public agencies.
Food Access Raises Everyone: A Collaborative, Comprehensive Approach to a Healthier Cleveland and Cuyahoga County
The result of a year-long planning and assessment process, the FARE Report was driven by a broad-based Advisory Committee and the input of hundreds of stakeholders via phone calls, meetings, site visits, convening breakout sessions, worksheets, and surveys.
The report is organized into eight program areas, with the recognition that each program is not operating in isolation, but rather, as a part of a larger, comprehensive movement. Specific examples are included in order to offer inspiration and identify areas of intersection that may not have occurred to readers before.
By celebrating and informing readers about existing food access work in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, we hope to share paths for collaboration and provide information and suggestions for people to integrate into their own planning processes.
A core way in which FARE translates its approach into action is by using a health equity framework to ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are reflected in every decision and action of the project. Since continued growth and reflection are key components of FARE, at the end of 2018, we paused to assess whether we were truly centering DEI in our work and connecting to additional social determinants of health. FARE’s staff and advisor DEI sub-committee used the CDC’s Practitioner’s Guide for Advancing Health Equity to look critically at our partnerships, processes and priorities through a health equity lens. We identified gaps and themes, and by April 2019, we agreed on an updated set of core values and an Equity Checklist that now serves as our compass.
We continue to consult the Checklist for all FARE decisions, including project design and implementation, use of funds, hiring processes, partnerships, and focus neighborhoods. Key themes in the Checklist include: allocation of resources, communication and dissemination of data and tools, community engagement infrastructure, representation, data-driven decision making, leadership and accountability, operations, and connecting with other determinants of health. This means, today, we work at the local neighborhood level (while continuing to serve the entire county), and we have hired from the communities where we work. We invest in our staff and ensure that all of our actions are building capacity and shared-ownership. We transparently share information and resources in real time through multiple modes of communication. We provide continual opportunities for feedback, realizing we must either be comfortable defending a practice or ready to change it. We prioritize partners that demonstrate shared values, while supporting others who want to do so but don’t yet know how. FARE is demonstrating that using a community-participatory model and health equity framework leads to higher impact.
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