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Fighting Food Insecurity Locally with Andrea Youndt

Fighting Food Insecurity Locally with Andrea Youndt

Podcast published: August 16, 2023

We explore how the Chester County Food Bank leads the local fight against food insecurity in a great conversation with the for impact organization’s CEO, Andrea Youndt. Andrea shares how her career trajectory lead her to her current leadership position, and walks us through how the food bank partners with 150 local partners to address food insecurity and related challenges across Chester County.

Links

Chester County Food Bank

Local Non-Profits

Area Senior Centers

Chambers of Commerce in Chester County

  1. Chamber of Commerce of Greater West Chester
  2. Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry
  3. Downingtown Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce
  4. Exton Region Chamber of Commerce
  5. Oxford Area Chamber-Commerce
  6. Phoenixville Regional Chamber of Commerce
  7. Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce
  8. Western Chester County Chamber of Commerce

More Links

Liam Dempsey: Welcome to Start Local, where we talk with business owners, leaders of nonprofits, and other members of our community focused on doing business in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. Each episode will provide insight into the local business scene and tell you about opportunities to connect with and support businesses and nonprofits in your local area.

Erik Gudmundson: Hello, and welcome to Start Local, where we connect with local leaders to support local businesses and nonprofits in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. I’m Erik Gudmundson and I’m here with my co-host Liam Dempsey. Hi Liam. How are you doing today? 

Liam Dempsey: Super fantastic. Thank you, Eric. 

Erik Gudmundson: Alright. Well, today we are chatting  with Andrea Yaundt. Andrea is the director of the… CEO rather of the Chester County Food Bank. Andrea, welcome to Start Local. 

Andrea Youndt: Thank you Liam and Eric. It’s great to be here with you.

Erik Gudmundson: All right. Well, thank you for joining us, but I wanted to get started. Before we talk about all the good things the food bank is doing, I wanna learn a little bit about you personally.  How did you come into your role as CEO, and what does a typical day look like for you as the CEO of the Chester County Food Bank? I heard you remark earlier, you don’t have an office. So, I definitely wanna know more about that.

Andrea Youndt: Well, I’ll start with that little part first, and then I’ll go about how I got here. But, there are no typical days, and I’ll come back to that in a minute. But, no two days are alike. And I kind of like it like that. I like a challenge and I like the fact that every new day brings new opportunities for us. 

How I came to the food bank? I’ve worked in what I like to call for impact organizations versus nonprofit. I kind of don’t like the nonprofit versus for-profit connotation. So, I’ve been in the for impact world for my entire career. I started in long-term care healthcare for 13 years, worked for the YMCA of Philadelphia and the YMCA of The Greater Brandywine Valley for the last, for 10 years prior to coming here. And so I feel like my journey prepared me for this opportunity two and a half years ago when it became available.  

I also did a lot of work as a missionary in Peru for 15 years and saw a lot of food insecurity. And I think that’s kind of what sparked my interest in the food bank when I saw the position

Liam Dempsey: That’s a lot there.  

Andrea Youndt: Yeah. Want me to shorten that?

Erik Gudmundson: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I’m, I’ve done some reading and you have a very impressive career and a very…there’s a real story arc to how you’ve gotten to, at least that’s what I picked up on reading a number of articles, and I feel like we could have a sideways show on the journey that you’ve taken. 

But I do wanna talk a lot about the food bank, the Chester County Food Bank, and your role there as CEO.  And for those who aren’t familiar with the food bank, it really is the leading provider, the leading for impact organization that helps meet the nutritional needs, the food needs of folks in Chester County.

And it’s pretty clear from the information that I spent looking into on your website, that you do that in, you and your colleagues do that in a variety of ways, and perhaps probably for a lot more people than some of our listeners might expect. Can you talk about the ways that the Chester County Food Bank works and supports people in Chester County?

Andrea Youndt: Sure. And I think that goes to the story of no two days are alike. So our mission, I refer to our mission as our North Star. And our mission is to mobilize the community to ensure access to real healthy food. So I’m gonna just pull apart three words that kind of really focus on how we go about doing it.

First of all, mobilizing. You know, we really need and rely upon our community to fulfill our mission. So we’re constantly trying to engage, educate, and create awareness with our community. So, thank you. This helps us tremendously. And mobilization really means helping volunteer, donating, running food drives, you know, getting involved. So mobilization is one. 

Ensuring access is really how we go about our Mission. So, access is not just distribution, as you alluded to Liam. We create access through teaching people how to grow their own food. So we have 80 raised bed garden partners and we teach individuals and groups how to grow food and then they distribute it into their local communities to food insecure individuals.And our local pantries and food cupboards. 

We also ensure access by helping people with their SNAP benefits. We help enroll individuals and help work them, walk them through the complex application process in order to obtain benefits. 

And then we also have our mobile market and other programs. So we have a mobile market that goes out during the growing season in Pennsylvania. Goes out to six different locations across the county. And what’s different from our little mobile market farmer’s market is that we accept SNAP, WIC and the farmer’s market nutrition program checks that seniors get. And then you and I can also shop there. So it’s a truly for all market.

And then healthy food. We pride ourselves on the fact that we distribute, 50% of what we distribute is healthy. We’re growing food, so we work with two farm partners, the Springton Manor Farm and Two Gander Farm. And then we have volunteers from different corporations coming out to help us harvest that food. So it’s really an inclusive process of our community, and that’s how we go about it through food, education and sustainability to make sure that our 40 to 50,000 food insecure residents across the county have access to the food that they need.

Erik Gudmundson: I think many people don’t realize about Chester County, just how many people are food insecure. People love to tout the statistic of how wealthy Chester County is. How fantastic we are relative to other counties, and not just the state, but across the country. But the reality is there are still a lot of people that need help. It’s a very expensive area in which to live. And so you do a great service to all the folks that need that assistance.

Your volunteer operation alone is incredibly sophisticated. I know my company, Pegasus Technologies, we’ve done a volunteer day with the Chester County Food Bank. You had an incredible system for basically delegating the work of where, what people need to go, what people need to do. We had some people out in the field working on harvesting. We had some people working, you know, at your facility in Exton, basically to help, you know, clean up some of the food that was coming in. So it was a really sophisticated, you know, well-oiled machine that you had functioning there to work very efficiently to help service the need here in Chester County.

You mentioned community as well, which I think is so important. And obviously you’re focused on Chester County, but in a recent episode of Start Local, we heard from Bob Martin of CampHill Village Kimberton Hills, and he explicitly thanked the food bank for your great partnership and support. So how does the Chester County Food Bank work with our local Camp Hill Village?

Andrea Youndt: Oh, they’ve been a great partner over the years. I think it’s been a great collaboration and cooperative,  relationship. They have a unique community, and I think it really speaks to what an inclusive community should be and could be if we all embrace some of the ideals that they have. We’ve been growing partners together. So at our earlier timeframe before we were working with Pete over at Westtown, we were growing on the property with Camp Hill, and so we would bring volunteers in to help us with harvesting, but it would also help them. 

We’ve also sourced volunteers to help them throughout their time. And then we would just work collaboratively to make the community a better place. Some of their residents and individuals with  intellectual and physical challenges have come here to volunteer for a socialization opportunity. So truly, it’s just a great uplifting partnership and collaboration.

Erik Gudmundson: And then another community collaboration I’ve seen is with the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup and the local equestrian community,  where, you know, they have named you as a beneficiary of, you know, some of their race proceeds for the exciting world-class equestrian sports that are happening here in the county. How did that relationship come about and why is that relationship of value to you? I know it’s really impressive to see your actual, you know, food bank truck, there. So it’s certainly creating visibility for the community when you’re there. 

Andrea Youndt: Well, we couldn’t do what we do without amazing people in the community. And certainly Anne and Michael Moran have been tremendous supporters of the food bank and the Moran family in general. And the Hunt Cup being such a great exhibit for people to come together and not really many people coming to the Hunt Cup wouldn’t be thinking about food insecurity. So the platform of the Hunt Cup really provides us that audience to share our story and our mission. 

And you know, the proceeds that we received from that are a wonderful donation at that time of the year. The holidays are typically much. Well, I should, I used to say they were typically harder. Unfortunately, every day is Hunger Action month for us. So, the Hunt Cup has just been a great supporter. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have come to us through that, and it goes right back into that community. So,  Andrea Collins, who runs an amazing event. Obviously Eric, your voice at the Hunt Cup is tremendous and we appreciate the airtime that you give us during that event as well.

Erik Gudmundson: It’s our pleasure. 

Liam Dempsey: Andrea, I wanna circle back with just a short question. Earlier you talked about supporting folks with the SNAP program and I think you said the WIC program. Can you give us just a sentence or two about what those programs might be for folks unfamiliar?

Andrea Youndt: Yeah. So SNAP refers to what people mostly would remember as food stamps. And it’s really usually a misconception by many that this is a handout for individuals, and really it is not. Most people that are on SNAP, 55% are either children or seniors, and then the other percentage are for working individuals. There’s a working requirement in order to apply for SNAP. So, if you’re 21 to 54, you must work 20 hours a week in order to apply for SNAP.

The other issue that I will share that people are really unaware of is that the threshold, the monetary threshold for Chester County residents, most residents of Chester County will not be able to get SNAP because they make too much. But in Chester County, that’s not enough to live. 

So an example, a family of four in Chester County. The new statistics have gone out that a family of four needs an income of $111,000 annually to be able to live in the countm mostly because of the high cost of living. SNAP cuts you off if you have a family of four and you’re making more than $55,180, you will not qualify for benefits. You and I all know that $55,000 in a family of four is not gonna make it in the county. So, truly the number of people that are food insecure in the county is because the high cost of living and the average wage for a service worker is not hitting what is a livable wage? A livable wage for this county is between 18 and $22 an hour. So, I hope that answers your question, Liam, about SNAP.

Liam Dempsey: It sure does, and I really appreciate the numbers behind it. You know, the 110,000, the 55,000, the 18 to 22, ’cause those numbers are things that we can write down and do some math on. They’re very tangible. So thank you for that. I appreciate it.

Andrea Youndt: Sure.

Erik Gudmundson: Are there any other nonprofits in the county that you work with, that you would like to mention that are a really good partner for you? Or anything in particular that you’re looking for in terms of partnerships with other nonprofit organizations or for-profit organizations?

Andrea Youndt: Yeah. You know, I would, I wanna shout out to the chambers. All of the chambers are really great partners, and they’re all run by amazing women. And I shout out that, you know, you don’t really think about it, but every one of the chambers is run by a woman. And they’ve been really good about working with us. And I say us, the nonprofits. And I feel that we have a good network as a nonprofit group.  We work collaboratively. A lot of times our for-profit friends feel that we’re competing for their dollars and we actually don’t feel that way. We know that people will give where they are inspired to give and what matters to them. So we support each other very closely, and meet regularly, which I think is a wonderful thing. You know, it’s hard to shout out just one or two because truly we’re engaged with almost every nonprofit in the county in one way or the other. 

I was last week asked to be part of the Chester County Futures Bootcamp, and I got to speak to, you know, 39 seniors that are graduating out of that program and going on to college. So they’re doing great work. And you wouldn’t think that the food bank would be working with Chester County Futures, but I think that’s, that’s where the uniqueness comes from, that we’re all kind of in this together.  

Another, you know, Crime Victims Center does great work. Christine Zaccarellii is an amazing person, and does great work. 

Home of the Sparrow, and Michelle Venema again, just doing great stuff. 

And then all of our other partners, CACS and PACS, we refer to them like that. Kennet Area Community Services, Phoenixville Area Community Services, the West Chester Food Cupboard, the Octorara Food Cupboard, all of our, we have 150 partners across the county. So, you don’t want me to list all of those for you, but…

Erik Gudmundson: Well, it’s wonderful to me and very uplifting that a lot of the nonprofits can collaborate together on a common need because they all are aware of that need from different angles. And certainly all the different angles have to be addressed. But in order to address them cohesively, you do have to work together with those other organizations. 

So, one of the ways that I see other organizations have really admired what the Food Bank has done and what you personally have done is that the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry,  they have an organization, internal to them that said the Women Influencing Business Committee. And that committee working with the Board of the Chamber has named you the Female Business Leader of the Year. So, congratulations on that!

But I wanted to ask you, what does winning the award mean to you? Hopefully I’m not stealing too much of your acceptance speech when that comes up. But, I have to understand just, you know, how, what does it mean to you that your community has recognized you as an important piece of that puzzle that you were just laying out?

Andrea Youndt: Well, It’s an uncomfortable, humbling award. So everyone who knows me, the first thing they say is congratulations. And I know how much you really are excited about standing up in front of everybody and being singled out. So, truly humbling. 

And, you know, it’s hard for me to accept something individually and take that individual recognition. You know, I’m truly always have been through sports than anything else. I’m a team player. You know, I had more assists playing basketball than points because I like to pass the ball to the person who’s gonna get the better shot. And that’s how I approach my work no matter where I am and whatever role I’m in. I like to make other people look good. And I think if we all do that, then we’re all gonna look good together. 

And, you know, I’m not in my role today because I got here by myself. I’ve worked alongside great people. I’ve learned from them. I’ve tried to glean things from them, and then I try to apply those things on behalf of the organization that I have the opportunity to work with.

And,  you know, I have a great board. I have great people. we have a great team here at the food bank, so,  I will graciously accept the award on behalf of all the people that have stood behind me. 

Liam Dempsey: That’s great. That is great. I love your humility. It’s not common place for the CEO to have the level of humility that you do to the workplace. So, thank you. Thank you for being you. This is great.

I wanna go back a little bit.  You talked about the 150 partners that you work within and around Chester County to address the food insecurity challenges that families face. And you already said that you probably don’t want us to list all 150 of them, and that would be correct. I think our listeners would regret  that editorial choice if we were to make it. But maybe you can share one business or one nonprofit that You just think the world of that doesn’t get enough of the spotlight and that more folks in the area should know about.

Andrea Youndt: You know, I think collectively our senior centers. You know, we see more people that are seniors becoming food insecure and having a harder time because they’re on a fixed income. And you know, people are living longer but not living in a manner in which Is respectful of their age and what they’ve contributed to society.

I think our senior centers are doing yeoman’s work in terms of trying to make sure they’re reaching out to individuals who can’t get to them. Altering during covid was especially challenging for the senior population. You know, they had a lot of social isolation and I think, you know, our senior centers, West Chester, Phoenixville, Brandywine Valley Active Aging, Kennett and Oxford have just done an amazing job. And I think all of them should get a little bit more airtime per se, of awareness of what really they’re trying to accomplish and the void that they’re filling for so many people  in our community. 

Erik Gudmundson: So you’ve talked a lot about what other organizations have done, but what does the Chester County Food Bank need help with?

Andrea Youndt: Well, step one is what we’re doing today, which I truly appreciate education and awareness. Because when I first started two and a half years ago, I think that was one of the things that was really missing was people didn’t understand who we were, that, you know, we are the Amazon warehouse for the county. We’re not a food pantry. We’re not a food cupboard. And often people would say, oh, I, I give to the West Chester Food Bank. And I said, there is no Westchester Food Bank. There’s the Chester County Food Bank, there’s a West Chester Food Cupboard. And so, you know, and I understand that before I had this job, I don’t know that I understood the difference either. So, I feel like it’s, it’s really my responsibility and purpose to educate our community so people understand the system. So awareness. So, thank you. 

And then action. I need help with people taking action. our community acting. All the time I kind of flippantly said we have hunger action month every month, and truly we do. 

And during the holidays people are especially generous, but during the summer, which is one of our most challenging times, kids are at home. Many of those kids depend on their school for breakfast and lunch. And the gap in the summertime is very hard. So we need people to take action and do what you can to help us with donated food. Help us with contributed dollars. 

If you’re a business person and you’re in development, create affordable housing. If you are a business owner, pay an affordable good living wage. So, you know, it’s really a community has to come together and people would not be food insecure. We’re the end result of some other root causes. So I think it’s true community action. That’s what we need help with. 

Erik Gudmundson: Thank you. Hopefully our listeners can help get engaged in all the ways that you just described.  

What open positions are you trying to fill? You mentioned the labor market in Chester County, and I think that we’ve heard a common refrain from many folks that they have open positions that they can’t quite fill or they can’t fill as fast as they’d prefer. So are there any open positions that you’re trying to fill today? 

Andrea Youndt: Well, ironically, for the first time in my two and a half years, I can say we are fully staffed. And that has not come with a lot of challenge. I’ve had a lot of challenges here, turnover and also sourcing positions because, you know, we don’t fill in that or check the box of hybrid or remote. We can’t do what we do hybridly or remotely. So we’re not popular in that category. But I will say, I work with a true group of mission-driven individuals. And most people know that if you’re in this work, you’re not gonna be doing it at home. You have to do it where the people are, and you gotta get into the community.

And so for us, I’m excited that we are not in that situation. But we could be tomorrow. So, but we’ve got, our driver positions are filled, our warehouse positions, our kitchen positions, our field positions, our educators, everything. 

Erik Gudmundson: Well, congratulations. That’s no easy feat, and it really speaks to, to not only your retention rate, but also,  your employee engagement rate. and clearly that, that, that’s a reflection of, of your duties as a CEO is to engage employees and, congratulations.

Andrea Youndt: Thank you.

Liam Dempsey: And I’ll add to that, I’ve been involved on a volunteer side in a number of different food insecurity events, whether at, the food bank with the postal service, doing their food collection or over at Downingtown West for the Thanksgiving and the winter holiday seasons. And the Chester County food back team is always there in some capacity, usually with their bright, big, bright colored vehicles.

And your folks are always happy. Are always energetic and always moving in a constructive, hardworking way. So it must be a real pleasure to have the team that you have around you.

Andrea Youndt: It is. And I think we gain energy from each other. You know, I think we are truly at our best in crisis because we know what to do and no one knows, no one asks, well, that’s, or says this isn’t my job. We just had major events this week and everybody was running around, going in different directions, but pulled together and just make it happen, you know, things go wrong. The schedule gets upset because we’re depending on other people, but we just, it just rolls. We just adjust and do what we have to do. And,  it’s a great team and that’s the attitude we need. I call it the, whatever it takes attitude. 

Erik Gudmundson: Speaking of whatever it takes, and driving awareness, September is Hunger Action Month and that’s feeding America’s Network’s annual nationwide campaign designed to inspire people to take action and raise awareness of hunger in the United States. How is the Chester County Food Bank involved? 

Andrea Youndt: So, the dynamic with Feeding America, we are not a Feeding America food bank. Feeding America is a bit of a franchise. So there’s 200 food banks associated with Feeding America. Philabundance is the closest feeding America Food Bank to us, and we are what is called a partner distribution organization for Philabundance.

So, you know, we follow and participate in most of the things that Feeding America puts out there.  I would like to say we exceed the expectation and actually wish we were more of a Feeding America food bank on our own, but we’ll do our part in any way we can. So,  we will be doing everything we can to bring awareness during that month and follow some of the posts that they have.

And also, I’ll be using the award event in September to bring attention to Hunger action month. That’s a great thing that it’s time then. And we’ll be calling people to action in that month and hopefully have a challenge out there for everyone to help us meet that challenge.

Liam Dempsey: Andrea, this has been such a pleasure, experience, such a pleasurable experience to sit here and chat with you and learn more about you, and the great work going on at the Chester County Community Food Bank.

Before we officially say goodbye and wrap up our time together, can you share where folks will, can best connect with you or best connect with the food bank? Where can we find you online please? 

Andrea Youndt: Sure. You know, go to our website, [chestercountyfoodbank.org] and you will find all the information. Our website is very robust. We get a lot of great feedback, and certainly my name is on there. And if you have any questions or if you’d like to come out and take a tour, I will meet you at the door. So, please don’t hesitate to connect with me. That’s how we do it. One person at a time.

Liam Dempsey: That’s fantastic! And we’ll be sure to include links to the food bank on in the show notes over at [startlocal.co] and we’ll definitely make sure that we include a direct link to the volunteer page so that listeners can learn more about how they can actively get involved or they can get involved through their company.

So we’ll be sure to put all that online over at [startlocal.co]. And while you’re over at [startlocal.co], you can absolutely subscribe to the podcast, whether in your first play or sign up for our email. And we’ll email you when a new episode comes out. 

Andrea Youndt: That’s awesome. And I will share that with our board and our, we have 10,000 volunteer database and we can share that with them as well.

Liam Dempsey: Well, that would be fantastic as well. So, thank you. 

Andrea Youndt:  You’re welcome.

Liam Dempsey: Well, that’s a wrap here, folks. 

So, thanks for listening. Thanks for making us a part of your day to day, and we’ll catch you in the next episode.

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