man using a laptop next to food ingredients

A partnership between a nonprofit organization and a business in the community can be a beautiful thing.

Without the support of community partners, many nonprofit organizations would face nearly insurmountable struggles to provide their vital services to the individuals they serve.

“In order for social services to most effectively help those we serve, it is essential to partner with all sectors, including business, government, and education,” says Greta Faworski, the associate director of Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes. “Every area of a community is connected in one way or another. Recognizing and strengthening these connections helps the overall health of a community and its ability to respond to the needs of its residents.”

Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes has been around since 1982. The nonprofit was originally created by a group of congregations in downtown Kalamazoo as a way to help provide food to community members who were struggling with food insecurity.

The nonprofit had been partnering with another provider in the community to handle its IT services, but the Loaves and Fishes team became dissatisfied with the service they were receiving. Cornerstone Technologies was asked to help the nonprofit transition and ended up becoming the IT provider for Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes in 2019.

“They felt like their previous IT provider did not prioritize them and wanted to get better care and response times without feeling like they were being nickeled and dimed,” says Joel Pellowe, sales manager for Cornerstone Technologies. “We are constantly looking at ways to improve their business. Not only do we want to support their tech needs, but we want technology to help them grow and have increased security.”

Let’s take a look at a few of the ways the nonprofit serves the community with its food programs throughout Kalamazoo County and how Cornerstone helps the nonprofit with its mission.

FEEDING AN ENTIRE COUNTY

The organization is no longer religiously affiliated. Today, people of all faiths aid the nonprofit in its mission to provide supplemental food to those in need. In fact, Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes helps to provide groceries to an average of 700 people each day across Kalamazoo County!

The majority of food provided by Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes is either purchased wholesale or in bulk by the organization or through its connection with the Charitable Food Network through Feeding America. The rest of the food provided by the nonprofit is gathered through food rescue, donation from the community, and local growers. Only 7% of the food offered by Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes is sourced from the USDA.

Grocery Pantry Program

The pandemic has changed the way the nonprofit distributes food. During normal times, Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes would distribute food for its Grocery Pantry Program (GPP) at 30 sites throughout the county.

Those who use the GPP will get perishable and nonperishable food that meet the nutrition guidelines set forth by the USDA. Individuals are able to use the service twice each month, and no ID is required.

Mobile Food Initiative

The Mobile Food Initiative is a food program intended to provide extra grocery items to individuals in need. Grocery items are available at more than eight different locations throughout the county through the month — sometimes even more! The food provided can be perishable or nonperishable and depends upon availability of products.

This food program is supplemental to the GPP and does not count toward a person’s two monthly visits to the GPP. It’s first-come-first-serve when it comes to the Mobile Food Initiative. Food from the program is provided for free, and it’s open to everyone — there is no paperwork and no eligibility requirements to meet. 

Commodity Supplemental Food Program

The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) is geared toward seniors in the community who are 60 years old or older with an income at or below 130% of the poverty level.

Food from the CSFP is able to help fill in the food gap for up to 650 people across Kalamazoo County every month. A state ID is required when individuals visit a distribution site. The program is designed for low-income seniors, so individuals must provide their total household income during the registration process. However, all food is provided to eligible individuals at no cost to them.

ADAPTING TO A NEW NORMAL

A lot changed for Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes during the pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, the nonprofit was operating 30 GPP sites across the county. At the start of the pandemic, all but one location closed.

To combat the need for social distancing, Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes transitioned to a curbside pickup model. Today, 20 of the original pantries have reopened, but they remain at curbside pickup because they discovered their clients preferred that method.

To make up for the decreased ability to make food available to hungry people, the nonprofit started a home delivery service in March 2020. That program has grown to a capacity of delivering 70 meals each day.

They also increased their mobile food truck service from 5 days a month to 9. All-in-all, they can serve 4,000 homes in an average month these days.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, partnerships were and continue to be key,” Faworski says. “Partners helped us connect to individuals in need of food assistance when, for many, it was quite unexpected. Our funding and food partners helped us secure the necessary resources to pivot our services and support the community in new ways.”

The pandemic has created many challenges for Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes to effectively serve its clients. Faworski says that forward-thinking partners like Cornerstone Technologies have helped the nonprofit overcome those obstacles and become stronger.

“The past two years have been unbelievably challenging for Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes, and we’ve relied on technology to help us remain operational. Our inventory and customer databases are crucial to daily business, and we have been required to use technology to connect with practically everyone,” she says. “Having a strong partnership with Cornerstone Technologies during these unprecedented times was key. We rely on them for unwavering technology support and quick responses to any issues that may arise.”

Pellowe says that’s the Cornerstone Technologies difference. Helping their customers and community partners succeed in their businesses means success to Cornerstone.

“That’s something that makes Cornerstone unique,” he says. “We are not focused only on managing a client’s existing infrastructure, we want to look for ways to improve their business with technology.”

Finding those ways to improve business through technology requires a lot of communication between an IT provider and a client. Cornerstone Technologies works with several nonprofit organizations, so we’re constantly making connections and looking for solutions that can better serve everyone.

“We want to continually amaze our clients so that they talk about their experiences with others,” Pellowe says. “We value relationships more than anything and want to make sure our clients value us equally.”

If your nonprofit organization is looking to improve business operations through technology, Cornerstone Technologies can help. We’re ready to partner with you to find ways to streamline your organization and free up your time to focus on serving the community. Contact us today to find out how we can help.