Charlene Graff, Agency Partner Specialist at Second Harvest Heartland, shares how she uses data on Minnesota Compass to better understand the people in need of their services, where they live, and the best ways to reach them.
Second Harvest Heartland is among the nation’s largest, most effective and innovative hunger relief organizations. We rely solely on community partners to distribute the food that we source and deliver. In my role as Agency Partner Specialist, I work with agencies to support them by working with food shelves, distributing produce and backpack and meal programs to build and support maximum potential. If we’re going to complete our mission of ending hunger through community partnerships, we need to know where the need is, who it is that is experiencing the need, and the best way to reach out to that particular sector. Second Harvest Heartland uses data to map this out and then reaches into these communities to find partners who are willing to fill the need. In a recent survey of partner agencies, research information on the demographics of their service areas was high on the list of needs.
We are constantly looking for new sources of data and Minnesota Compass combines several recognized sources to come up with information needed to understand the make-up of a community. Agencies can use this to make strategic plans, to do outreach into the community, to educate the community, and to inform donors and to plan service. At our 2019 annual fall regional community partner meetings throughout the state, we offered a breakout session at each of the six meetings presenting information and instructions on using the Minnesota Compass “Build Your Own” tool. Agencies were excited to learn about this new source of information and how easy it is to use.
The Build Your Own data tool is very user-friendly, making it accessible for our sometimes older food shelf managers who are intimidated by technology. It’s easy to log on to, you don’t have to have a user name and password, and you can create a custom profile for your area of interest anywhere in Minnesota in very little time. You’re able to choose a geographic area or choose to look at only greater Minnesota, the whole state, or specific areas in the Twin Cities and Duluth. Or you can draw your own boundaries and it gives the option to compare two geographic areas. It’s an amazing tool that offers many options for the agencies that we support to look at or compare data in really any geographic area in Minnesota. This is also great for our partner agencies, since their service areas often have all of these different boundaries.
We in greater Minnesota are used to getting the short end of the stick. Most information that’s available is geared toward the metro area or areas with higher populations, which we just don’t have. So it was refreshing to note that Minnesota Compass has focused especially on serving greater Minnesota’s needs, making an effort to come out and ask us what we need, and then creating a tool that is very useful for us. I think it’s important for those of us who reside in rural Minnesota to know the facts about who lives and works in our communities, who needs help, and where they live. It’s vital that we can have access to reliable information so that we are all learning and sharing the same information to help to strengthen our communities where they need it. With the Minnesota Compass Build Your Own data tool we can see how many people are living in poverty in a particular area, even breaking it down to the number of children, adults, and seniors who are living below the poverty line and eligible for emergency food services. We can look at the cultural diversity of the area to determine where and what kind of outreach needs to be done and what kinds of foods we could be offering. We can also look at transportation needs for our services- a vital part of our rural survival. And we can compare those numbers to the number of people we are reaching and serving, telling us where to shore up services, moving us closer to the mission to end hunger.
Submitted by Charlene Graff, Agency Partner Specialist, Second Harvest Heartland