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Going National: How One Nonprofit Is Expanding Its Reach

For most nonprofits, the need for services is always one step ahead of capacity, which eventually forces the questions: How far should you take your program? Where do you draw the line on services?

The Power Packs Project (PPP), a Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based nonprofit working to end hunger in school children, recently found itself in that position. The project has grown significantly since its founding nearly a decade ago, but the need in surrounding communities continues to grow.

A Unique Approach

PPP provides children with weekend packs containing detailed cooking instructions and the ingredients for a healthy meal, staples and fresh produce along with educational materials.  The packs are designed not only to provide healthy food over the weekend, but to empower parents with the skills and knowledge needed to provide regular, nutritious home-cooked meals for their children.

A Model for Expansion

The program has already grown significantly through an innovative Affiliate Program that allows groups to replicate the Power Packs Project in other school districts. Each affiliate is sponsored by a local business or bank, which donates $5,000 to cover startup fees. Affiliates require only 2-3 hours of weekly staff time as PPP provides full administrative and operations support, ensuring a standardized level of excellence for all PPP families. Volunteers from local churches and nonprofits distribute the packs.

“The Affiliate Program is a model of administrative efficiency and community collaboration,” said PPP Executive Director Kim McDevitt. “As affiliates establish themselves and gain the support of volunteers and businesses, they become unique, self-sufficient programs tailored for and by their own communities.”

As a result, Power Packs has expanded into 45 schools in twelve districts and currently feeds more than 6,000 individuals. The board has its sights set on ending hunger for children throughout the country.

Next Steps

“We knew we needed to build development to broaden our reach,” Kim said. “How do you manage that? How do you keep the donors engaged? How do you grow your base and increase funding?  We never really had a formal process in place for that.”

First Nonprofit Foundation (FNF) awarded PPP a $15,000 grant for marketing and fundraising efforts. Power Packs has contracted with a social media partner and a fundraising consultant to drive engagement and fill in funding gaps. “We’re building momentum,” Kim said. “People are reaching out to us. We’re seeing a very positive response.”

A Key Ingredient

One key ingredient for taking a nonprofit to the next level is providing a unique solution to a widespread problem. Power Packs is fundamentally different from other school pantry programs because of its holistic, family-based approach to hunger. “Most backpack programs provide for an immediate need,” Kim said. “By educating the family and providing food and recipes for entire meals, we’re promoting sustainability. The national program, Feeding America has recognized us as one of the best school pantry programs in the nation.”

A Recipe for Success

Schools have seen the power of the program in healthier students who come to school ready to learn. And the Power Packs approach has yielded benefits that go beyond nutrition.

“Power Packs is giving families the experience of eating together and cooking together,” Kim said. “It makes children feel safe because they see their parents providing meals for them, not just receiving pre-packaged food from an outsider.”

Another benefit of the program is the relationships it builds between schools and participating families. “It helps school staff get to know families better and build relationships, so when problems arise, students and their parents are feeling more connected and are willing to reach out for help,” Kim said. “The families feel like their schools care. That relationship is key to a child’s wellbeing.”

The Next Step

“PPP’s nutrition and education-based program is creating real, long-term changes in our communities,” Kim said. “Now, with community support and organizational infrastructure already in place, PPP is ready to show how easily we can replicate our success in each and every new community we serve.”