When Chaleiah Henderson landed at FFEN as a VISTA with AmeriCorp’s Move for America program last fall, she ventured into new territory, taking a deep dive into learning about food insecurity. As a recent graduate from Minnesota State University, Mankato with a passion for community engagement, and despite the learning curve ahead of her, FFEN felt like just the right fit. With its small, supportive team and welcoming environment, she was able to settle in and take some time to become familiar with the language of hunger relief and all there was to tackle within the sector.

Her first order of business was to support FFEN’s efforts around the Minnesota Food Shelf Survey that was already underway. Launched in 2017, the biennial survey is unique to the hunger relief sector as its goal is to gather pertinent data about food shelves, their users and shopping behaviors—all critical to the operation of Minnesota food shelves. The 2022 survey, just the third of its kind in our state, was devised as a tool to help inform the work of regional and local food shelves across Minnesota. 

As part of her year-long position at FFEN, Henderson assisted with distributing the survey just as it was rolling out to more than 250 food shelves. Through a variety of site visits she was able to witness firsthand the critical nature of the work while observing key differences in how food shelves approach their operations. She also was integral in adapting the survey implementation process accordingly, based on whether it was distributed to shoppers while they were standing in line, waiting for open hours, or even sitting in their cars awaiting their pre-packed grocery orders. Her involvement helped shed some light on exactly why the survey was so important—as a way for food shelves to get to know their shoppers and understand their most pressing needs, develop organizational strategies, inform sustainability for the future and gain qualitative feedback from the shoppers themselves.

In addition to survey implementation, Henderson assisted with data tabulation as well as the post-survey debriefing “data party” sessions offered to stakeholders to share perspectives, vet and analyze data results from the survey prior to the release of the final report.

Though she professes to “not be a data person,” she currently continues to support the survey efforts on the back end as she works along with the FFEN team on facilitation and discussion guides and graphics to accompany unique survey results that will be provided to each of the food shelf participants (those sites with ten or more survey respondents will receive their own site-specific report) as well as the full statewide report providing a general overview to all participant sites. 

There is still much work to be done around the Statewide Survey. As Henderson moves closer to wrapping up her contributions to the survey and her role at FFEN, she looks forward to pursuing career aspirations in community engagement with youth and young adults.

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