Most foundations are set up to provide financial support to the nonprofit sector. But dollars are only one asset many foundations possess. Sometimes there is overlooked value in other assets, like information, expertise, or connections that can help a nonprofit achieve its mission. This story, from Food Bank of Alaska, highlights how nonprofits and philanthropy partner beyond the grant to make good things happen in Alaska.

As noted in a previous blog post, last year Rasmuson Foundation surveyed grantees’ perceptions about our operations, and one strong finding was the perceived value of ‘non-monetary assistance’ — activities such as advice, facilitating collaborations, and advocating on behalf of the sector. This story, from Food Bank of Alaska, highlights how nonprofits and philanthropy partner beyond the grant to make good things happen in Alaska.

Guest post by Susannah Morgan, Food Bank of Alaska

kid lunchThe Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is a safety net that provides meals to low-income kids when school is out, and essentially extends the USDA National School Lunch Program through the summer months to insure children receive adequate nutrition. SFSP is particularly underutilized in Alaska. For every 100 kids who get a free or reduced-price lunch during the school year, only 9.5 kids get a meal through SFSP in the summer.

Food Bank of Alaska (FBA) is the biggest sponsor of SFSP in Alaska and sponsored half of all sites statewide last year. As the sponsor, FBA is legally responsible for the paperwork, food provision, and proper management of the program. In every case, FBA partners with a local organization – tribe, church, nonprofit, city government, even a business or two – that takes responsibility for distributing meals to kids. In most cases, FBA provides the food. FBA purchases truckloads of shelf stable pre-packed meals for rural Alaska and arrange for other partners like The Children’s Lunchbox to make food on the road system. In a few cases, the sites prepare their own food while FBA still manages the paperwork.

FBA has been providing meals to rural Alaska sites for four years. The challenge is that SFSP guidelines require that each site be inspected three times a summer, a process called monitoring. The meal reimbursement through SFSP barely covers the cost of purchasing and shipping meals – it certainly would not cover the cost of flying an FBA staff member to rural Alaska three times per site per summer.

As instructed by the State of Alaska administrator, FBA has been finding a local volunteer to monitor rural sites. Unfortunately, it was discovered in February 2012 that this instruction violated SFSP regulations, which state that the Monitor must be an employee of the sponsor. So FBA was facing the situation that we might not be able to afford to sponsor rural sites in 2012. Jo Dawson, head of Child Nutrition Services at the State Department of Education and Early Development, submitted a request for a waiver to USDA, which could produce official permission to modify the SFSP regulations around monitoring.

The waiver request was moving slowly through USDA. As summer drew nearer, FBA needed to start ordering truckloads of food to serve rural Alaska – but we weren’t sure we could serve rural Alaska. Pondering this question, I happened to mention it during a conversation with Rasmuson Foundation President Diane Kaplan.

Diane was on her way to Washington, DC, the following week. I emailed her the background and she included discussions about the pending waiver in her meetings with USDA Secretary Vilsack and the Alaska Congressional delegation. Within a week, FBA learned that waiver had been approved, just in time to save our rural SFSP program.

And I learned a valuable lesson – getting a grant is only one way to partner with Rasmuson Foundation.