History of FAM
The Food Assistance Match got its start on March 13, 2020. Pennsylvania’s governor had just announced a two-week shutdown of schools, stores, and restaurants, and everyone was anxious.
Committee members for the Bellevue Farmers Market — people in the community who volunteer their time, talent, and treasure to run the farmers market — knew that many market patrons were food-insecure. With many newly jobless and seniors forced to remain homebound, the committee anticipated many neighbors would struggle with food insecurity before aid could reach them. With that, the Feeding Neighbors Program was born.
Initially, the program was a hastily if robustly managed meal-delivery service. Within a few weeks, however, the volunteers had a plan.
The Bellevue Farmers Market committee members and friends bought food, received permission to use a church kitchen, and began cooking meals. They got the word out through the farmers market social media channels and used the market’s nonprofit status to bring in donations. As time went on, more and more people signed up to receive meals, and more and more people signed up to help.
Over the four months that the Feeding Neighbors Program was active, volunteers delivered over 30,000 meals to more than 300 families.
The program enlisted the help of over 250 volunteers and raised over $100,000 in cash, food, equipment, PPE, and other donations. This included two grants from the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowment. (Friend of the market Annie Saunders wrote about the program’s beginnings here, and Todd Barnett created a short documentary of the program that can be found here.)
The reason for the success? The committee members utilized a dignity-first approach for every decision they made. They knew that many folks on food assistance are often looked down upon for needing assistance — and they refused to let that happen to their neighbors. They required a high level of customer service for every recipient, volunteer, and donor to the program to ensure no one felt shame or guilt.
Through the Feeding Neighbors Program, addressing local food insecurity became a passion. The committee saw food insecurity in their community in a new way. What was previously abstract and remote became all too clear. Learning the widespread extent of food insecurity—over 50% of the 15202 ZIP code qualifies for government food assistance—and seeing the actual people affected made this personal. Bellevue and the surrounding neighborhoods needed a more permanent solution to this problem.
Summer was fast approaching, which meant the farmers market would begin soon, and there was money left over from the grants. There was a universal desire to continue to help our neighbors suffering from chronic food insecurity. With a flash of inspiration, the Food Assistance Match was born.
The idea seemed so simple: Use the leftover grant money and match the food assistance benefits spent at the farmers market. Customers could stretch their assistance dollars way further and have access to locally grown, healthy, fresh produce. This money would go directly to regional farmers and businesses, benefiting the local economy. Everybody wins!
FAM has Provided
That is $35,000 of food provided directly to the community. That is $35,000 additional revenue for local small businesses and farmers. Soon enough, other markets heard about the program and wanted to join in. It made sense for FAM to help neighbors across a larger area, so in 2023, it spun out into its own nonprofit organization to aid even more people.
The reason for FAM’s success? The same dignity-first approach. Patrons who use the FAM program are treated with respect. The process is simple to use, anonymous, and gives patrons all of the decision-making power. They feel empowered not only because their food insecurity has been reduced, but because they have affordable access to the healthiest food available.
The FAM mission is far from over. With the new nonprofit status, FAM will expand to other markets, which means helping more individuals in need, reducing food insecurity, and supporting local businesses and farms. If you’re inspired by FAM and want to contribute toward our dignity-first approach to ensuring our neighbors are nourished, you can donate here.