How Strategic Partnerships Play a Role in the Work of Valley Outreach
“We recognize that no one organization has it all figured out, and we can do more together than alone,” said Liz Riley, pictured above, VP of Programs and Strategy. Liz plays an integral role in the strategic partnership efforts at Valley Outreach. These partnerships focus on improving access to food and social services through the direct work of Valley Outreach.
Partnerships are strategic and intentional. We work with other organizations whose values align with Valley Outreach but may have a unique expertise or experience. Different voices and perspectives at the table makes everyone’s efforts inclusive and more effective. We can leverage our strengths, as well as those of our partners, to make the broader group stronger.
How SuperShelf Has Led the Way
What started as a partnership between Lakeview Health Partners and Valley Outreach in 2012 called “Better Shelf for Better Health” has transformed into a broader movement called SuperShelf. Through partnerships, the SuperShelf movement transforms food shelves to provide welcoming and respectful environments to access healthy food. There are now 39 SuperShelf food shelves across Minnesota, with more coming soon.
The success of the SuperShelf partnerships gives us a roadmap for strategic partnerships. A model that drives system-wide changes while being locally relevant and improving access to critical services.
A Pandemic Solution with Long-term System-wide Potential
Like many food shelves and basic needs programs, Valley Outreach experienced a dramatic increase in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. We also needed to connect with clients in a more efficient, safe, and low-contact way.
Enter MobilizeComms – an online application that food programs in other states use to streamline the check-in process. We began using this in 2020, so clients could safely check-in from their vehicles to pick-up food. The application had potential to be useful beyond our original pandemic need. We then partnered with the Metropolitan Alliance of Connected Communities (MACC) to create a “connected community” to collaborate and test different uses for MobilizeComms. Following the successful pilot of the technology at Valley Outreach, in partnership with MACC, we began partnering with nine other organizations to roll out MobilizeComms. By working with other food programs, we create greater capacity across the hunger relief sector in Minnesota.
The MobilizeComms platform has been a critical element of Valley Outreach’s operations, helping us keep up with increasing demand today. We’ve gone from serving about 350 households per week during the peak pandemic response (e.g., our building closed/drive-up service only) to more than 700 households per week starting in January 2022.
What Partnerships Look Like Today
SuperShelf and MobilizeComms are some of our bigger initiatives. However, we also regularly collaborate with a network of other partners to help clients with things like housing, transportation, and utilities.
We are currently involved with a group of professionals and community members working to prevent and end homelessness called Heading Home Washington County. This group allows agencies to share information, resources and knowledge. We work together to explore new ideas and solutions to support folks struggling to keep their housing, trying to find affordable housing, and those who are experiencing homelessness.
Financial assistance is also a collaborative effort. When a client has an urgent, often larger expense, the funding usually comes from multiple sources—the client, Valley Outreach, and other funders, like the Community Sharing Fund at the St. Paul and Minnesota Foundation. Our team helps put all the financial pieces together to help folks stay in their home, make a deposit on a new place to live, fix a vehicle or even pay a medical bill.
We’ve partnered with Door Dash and other East Metro food shelves– White Bear Area Food Shelf and Open Cupboard– to sustain and expand a food delivery program for Ramsey and Washington county residents. What started as a response to the pandemic also highlighted an unmet need in the community for home delivery.
Through strategic partnerships, we can share resources and ideas to make the community stronger as a whole. Strong relationships with other partners that support the holistic needs of families are essential. We want to ensure clients are connected to the services they need. Together, we can do more to create an equitable and just social services system!