Empowering North Carolina Communities:
The ARPA Advocacy Academy Initiative
Isabella Petruccione, 2/14/2023
The ARPA Advocacy Academy (AAA) initiative is a program supporting eight food councils and community groups in North Carolina to advocate for local government allocations of American Rescue Plan Act (2021) local fiscal funds to support health-equity-related food systems projects.
After going through an application process, eight selected food councils and community groups are now participating in a 20-month-long cohort that is coming together virtually and in person to learn about local budget processes, effective advocacy with local governments, advocacy campaign strategies, and a plethora of other topics and tools.
Brianna Goodwin, Executive Director of Robeson County Church and Community Center, Coordinator of the largest pantry in the county, and a representative of one of the eight groups participating in AAA, says, “I’m thrilled to take opportunities for ARPA advocacy by the reigns.”
She believes that elected officials in her community need to hear the voices of the nonprofits that walk alongside the community’s most vulnerable residents to fully grasp the scope of their work and the needs of the people they serve.
ARPA, or the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (H.R. 1319), is a $1.9 trillion federal Coronavirus relief package to fund state and local fiscal recovery. North Carolina received ~$8.9 billion through this provision. Much of this money has yet to be spent, and even already-allocated money has the potential to be re-appropriated. Community Food Strategies partnered with the NC Budget & Tax Center to make the academy a reality. Our team is supporting the participating groups in identifying what ARPA funding remains at the local level, how to successfully advocate for its use, and identifying other pathways to municipal and county funding for food system-related projects.
Please check out all of the amazing work that these groups want to do in their communities with ARPA local fiscal recovery funding.
Pictured Above: ABFPC Outdoor Pantry Project, via @abfoodpolicy
Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council (ABFPC)
The Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council (ABFPC) was born out of a need for a local, community-driven entity to address food security, food justice, and food systems sustainability and access issues in Asheville and Buncombe county.
In participating in the AAA, ABFPC is looking to fund its Neighborhood Emergency Food Preparedness Planning work within marginalized communities. Furthermore, the group is looking for support for the food security reparations efforts of the Asheville Buncombe Food Security Reparations Coalition (ABFSRC).
Through ARPA funding, ABFPC’s coordinator Gina Smith is looking for ways to continue supporting neighborhoods in doing emergency food preparedness planning work, as well as their ability to expand to more neighborhoods throughout the city. Smith says that any amount of funding the group can get will go towards offering support and help with the implementation of this work. She looks forward to seeing what other groups around the state are working on and where they focus their energy.
Capital Area Food Network (CAFN)
Capital Area Food Network (CAFN) is a community-led network of organizations and individuals in Wake County working together to connect multiple sectors of the local food system and community with the goal of fostering a more inclusive, productive, and resilient food system.
CAFN’s main goal through AAA participation is to fund new and innovative initiatives to engage BIPOC farmers, suppliers, community organizations, and local food retailers that have traditionally been left out of the food system. This includes supporting recent SNAP recipients in accessing Tangelo delivery, which procures directly from the Black Farmers Market, and much more.
Cindy Sink, current chair of CAFN, shares that she is most excited about CAFN’s potential to function as a connector and convener that can help elevate grassroots organizations’ work to government officials. Sink explains that ARPA funding and investment from local governments is needed to demonstrate true partnership and openness to learning community-based solutions.
Photo below: Hearts and Hands Food Pantry, via Kenya Joseph
Charlotte Mecklenburg Food Policy Council (CMFPC)
The Charlotte Mecklenburg Food Policy Council (CMFPC) exists to advocate for policies that build a sustainable, equitable, and healthy local food system. Its goals are to enhance the health of its residents, strengthen local economies and market opportunities, and reduce hunger and food insecurity.
CMFPC is participating in AAA with partners at the Hearts and Hands Food Pantry and Freshlist. Charlotte’s Hearts and Hands Food Pantry is the only fully-independent food pantry in North Carolina, allowing services to be easily accessible and low-barrier. Freshlist is a fresh, local grocery delivery service that works with small-scale family farms throughout the Carolinas to deliver their harvests to restaurants and homes throughout Charlotte.
CMFPC hopes to secure ARPA allocations to continue and expand their SNAP/EBT Double Bucks program to increase equitable, healthy food access and spending value for SNAP beneficiaries. The council also hopes to secure ARPA funding to expand Hearts and Hands Food Pantry services and establish a year-round program to deliver pantry clients food boxes provided by Freshlist and sourced from local farmers.
Kenya Joseph, Board Chair of CMFPC and Director and President of Hearts and Hands Food Pantry, shares that the process of applying for ARPA funds is daunting, complicated, and often frustrating, establishing the need for initiatives like AAA. Despite the barriers, Joseph hopes the academy gives her a thorough understanding of local government and budget processes that will support her in being an effective advocate.
Photo below: Craven Terrace Garden, via Antoinette Boskey on Facebook
Craven County Community Gardeners
Craven County Community Gardeners (CCCG) is a supportive community organization of gardeners that functions to aid local gardeners, share successes and failures, and focus on food production in a community garden setting.
Through participating in AAA, CCCG’s goal is to successfully advocate for funding for the development of the Greater Duffyfield Gardens Project, which would bring community education and fellowship gardens to six identified locations. The Greater Duffyfield community, a historical Black neighborhood, lies in an area designated by the USDA as a ½ mile food desert. Establishing fellowship gardens in this area would bring fresh food access to families who otherwise depend on processed products, fast food, and convenience stores to eat.
Jennifer Knight, the coordinator of CCCG, anticipates that ARPA funds would allow the organization to procure necessary resources for their community gardens alongside the outreach needed for their success. She is excited to see what other groups in the AAA are doing, citing that there are so many interesting and innovative ways to address the inevitable crisis of our food system.
Men and Women United for Youth and Families (MWUYF) / Youth Ambassadors
Men and Women United for Youth and Families (MWUYF) is a non-profit community organization made up of food hubs, farmers, and youth leaders, with a comprehensive, holistic approach to improving the lives of the residents of Bladen, Brunswick, and Columbus Counties.
MWUYF hopes to secure local ARPA funding that would allow them to continue their current work through their Community Resiliency Hub and their Regional Food Hub supporting residents most impacted by COVID-19. These hubs operate to address and help to eliminate racial inequalities and social injustices evident in the areas of workforce development and food security.
Randolph Keaton, Director of MWUYF, says that the organization is excited to participate in AAA because it presents an opportunity for MWUYF to tell its story and network with other small organizations with similar stories. He sees the AAA as an opportunity to create a stronger relationship with local governments and to be considered a valued partner who can bring marginalized communities and their needs to the forefront.
Montgomery County Food Security Collaborative
The Montgomery County Food Security Collaborative (MCFSC) is a new group that is working to address Montgomery County food insecurity concerns identified during the Coronavirus pandemic through outreach and social support efforts. El Centro Hispano is a key founding member of MCFSC and works to strengthen the community by building bridges and advocating for equity and inclusion. The organization’s vision is to promote the Hispanic/Latino/Latinx community strengthening and the advancement of people in North Carolina and beyond.
MCFSC hopes to secure ARPA funding by participating in the AAA to continue building a local food council in Montgomery County to lead and guide food security efforts. Funds are also needed to expand their new food distribution center, upscale and build the capacity of local pantries, engage farmers in food security conversations, explore other crops and/or revenue streams for local farmers, diversify and grow the food items at farmers markets and pantries to meet the need of diverse racial and ethnic populations in the county, and improve outreach and education to other racial and ethnic groups.
Fiorella Horna, Covener and COVID-19 Project Leader at El Centro Hispano who has worked to form MCFSC in recent years, says that her team is most excited about learning more about advocacy efforts, discovering additional ARPA funding, and ultimately meeting others who are doing food security work across NC. Horna says that ARPA funds would allow her team to convene leaders, inform the design of structures and systems that ensure food security for all, build capacity of food organizations and groups, and achieve equitable access to food for communities of color and other underserved populations.
Pender County Food Coalition
The Pender County Food Coalition (PCFC) is a collaboration working to ensure that no one goes hungry in their region.
PCFC has identified a need for adequate physical space to serve clients and rising food costs resulting in fewer food donations as two key areas that could utilize ARPA funding investments. Municipal and county funding support would allow PCFC to reach more food-insecure households in Pender County and tackle the current challenges families face with rising food costs and shortages.
Pepper Hill, Education Manager at PCCS and founding member of PCFC, shares that none of the five individual organizations in the coalition have government support — they all rely on donations and grants for expenses. Hill explains that any ARPA allocation would make a huge difference in the amounts and types of healthy food they could provide to their clients. By participating in the AAA, PCFC hopes to increase its knowledge of how its local ARPA funds are distributed, gain access to those resources, and develop relationships with potential grantors and partners.
Robeson County Church and Community Center
Robeson County Church and Community Center (RCCCC) is one of the largest and oldest nonprofits in the region, serving Robeson County for over 50 years. The organization’s most well-known initiative is the county’s largest food pantry.
RCCCC hopes to take advantage of the opportunity in their community, with Robeson County having $25 million remaining ARPA funds. RCCCC aims to advocate for ARPA allocations to address food scarcity and access to healthy food options in the county’s rural areas, many of which are characterized as food deserts.
Brianna Goodwin, Executive Director of RCCCC and Coordinator of the largest pantry in the county, explains that Robeson County is historically one of the most divided and underprivileged counties in the state — but the organization believes fervently that it can lead by example and change that circumstance and narrative by educating people and funneling financial resources into the arenas of health equity, affordable housing, food scarcity, and mental wellness.
Goodwin says she is thrilled to take opportunities for ARPA advocacy by the reigns. She believes that elected officials in her community need to hear the voices of the nonprofits that walk alongside the community’s most vulnerable residents to fully grasp the scope of their work and the needs of the people they serve. She says that an ARPA allocation could easily be the defining factor in how effective and expansive RCCCC’s work becomes over the next few years. Goodwin explains that buy-in from the local government will sustain their work in the long term. Finally, she shares that, in participating in the AAA, RCCCC hopes to gain knowledge from policy experts and peers doing similar work in other areas of the state.