The Power of a Network

It’s a strange reality within LEAP that our small, Roanoke-centered nonprofit is also responsible for a statewide network involving over 100 partner organizations and millions of dollars in funding.

Back in 2018, LEAP stepped forward to act as the fiscal sponsor for a newly formed network called Virginia Fresh Match. At the time, Virginia Fresh Match was a loosely organized collective of farmers markets trying to secure funding for their food access work. LEAP applied for and received a federal grant on behalf of Virginia Fresh Match and began disseminating funds to other farmers markets.

Flashforward four years, Virginia Fresh Match is a formal network with its own brand and a roster of community partners spread out across the state, working together to fight nutrition insecurity.

In 2021, LEAP dispersed nearly $675,000 in funds to our partners, whose programs impacted an estimated 30,000 people. We currently manage a $1.5M operating budget on behalf of the network, and this is all happening in a small corner of our organization with a small handful of team members.

Truth be told, I didn’t fully understand what Virginia Fresh Match was when I started with LEAP in 2018. It’s tough for us hardwired to think in terms of organization and standalone entity to wrap our heads around a fluid network. In time, I’ve come to know Virginia Fresh Match as a diverse, multifaceted community united by the mission to help everyone bring home good, nutritious food.

On our recent monthly network call, we invited some of our partners to talk about their work within their own communities. We heard from Cheryl Bursch, who is doing innovative food justice work in Petersburg, and Renee Morris, who runs a small but mighty farm store in Duffield, and our own Markets Manager Connie Kenny, who remains one of our state’s most impassioned and brilliant food access advocates. That virtual meeting overflowed with expressions of appreciation and inspiration shared between people who are, oftentimes, working alone in their communities to help those most overlooked, almost always without the resources of a well-funded organization behind them.

Which is what may be the most meaningful part of LEAP’s role in Virginia Fresh Match: we can help these amazing people do their work by securing and sharing funding and resources. In many ways, it’s a radical approach to nonprofit work, where we are usually encouraged to fight one another for resources and operate constantly within a scarcity mindset.

Still don’t understand what Virginia Fresh Match is? Ok, fine. Virginia Fresh Match is a network of community food retail outlets (farmers markets, mobile markets, grocery stores, and farmers) that operate SNAP nutrition incentive programs, which lower the cost of fruits and vegetables at participating outlets. LEAP manages and distributes funding for these incentive programs and works alongside our partner food system leaders to provide support and resources for these community food access projects. We are grateful for the opportunity to nurture its growth and want more people in our local community to know about it!

-- Sam Hedges

LEAP Director of Support Services

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