It might seem a bit unorthodox, but Jessica Shelly searches for foodservice program funding on Google.
Shelly, director of food services for Cincinnati Public Schools, sets Google Alerts for a bundle of different keywords, including one constant: “grant.” Google’s timely emails have helped her win money from Fuel Up to Play 60 through American Dairy, United Fresh’s Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, Action for Healthy Kids, Share Our Strength, and even school gardens from companies such as Annie’s and Welch’s—organizations she might have never thought of.
Shelly is also creative about how she uses the equipment she wins. For instance, when she wanted to install mobile salad bars in her district, she applied for several breakfast grants because the same kiosks could be used for both purposes. “If you’re out there looking for salad bar grants, you may never find that,” she says. “At first it raised some eyebrows [among grantors]. Then they got the gist—they’re helping me move the needle across my entire mission. Make sure you’re thinking holistically, not just narrowly focused.”
Finding time for funding
Victoria Fuller, food service director at USD 374 in Sublette, Kan., works hard to find every grant possible. Her strategy: Go big, stay honest, skip any questions you can’t answer and, above all, budget a little bit of time to work on the application every day.
This approach helped Sublette win a $52,300 Food Service Equipment Assistance Grant from the Kansas State Department of Education in 2017. Included were two double convection ovens, two 10-burner ranges and two 30-quart standing mixers. “I have other things to do, so I had to prioritize my time to get this grant application done and perfected,” Fuller says. “It was definitely worth it.”
Fundraising with food
Beyond grants is the possibility of creative, attention-grabbing fundraisers that involve food. The Beach Food Pantry in Kitty Hawk, N.C., found an on-mission formula with its Holiday Chefs Challenge, held in December. The twist: Chefs must use some of the most donated food pantry items to make gourmet meals. Winning dishes have included Cap’n Crunch Fried Chicken with Sriracha Honey Drizzle and Loaded Cheddar-Havarti Mac & Cheese.
The annual event is so successful, it moved to a bigger venue in 2017 and still sold out, with more than 300 attendees paying $65 each, Executive Director Theresa Armendarez says. It has become the nonprofit’s biggest fundraiser, smashing its $27,000 goal for 2017 by raising $40,000.
As food insecurity becomes a bigger issue in primary schools, colleges and beyond, the formula would be worth replicating elsewhere, Armendarez says. “People love it,” she says. “One of the top things I hear is that the food is so good.”