Though operating out of a small building, the Franklin Food Bank has made a big impact on the community as a partner of CFBNJ for over two decades.
This pantry/food bank hybrid, led by Executive Director Derek Smith, provides food for over 25,000 visits annually through three main food assistance programs: a monthly drive-thru community distribution of produce and other items in partnership with the local police department, the YMCA, and CFBNJ; a Beyond Borders program, where the Franklin Food Bank serves other non-profit agencies; and Client Choice – a fully stocked choice pantry where neighbors can shop for themselves and their families using a point system that promotes equity, health, and inclusion.
Derek Smith and his dedicated staff are committed to maintaining a friendly, joyful atmosphere at the Franklin Food Bank. Derek says that the food bank’s client choice pantry is like a cross between Trader Joe’s and a neighborhood bodega – and he’s right. This “Bodega Joe’s” market is clean, colorful, bustling and cheerful. Music plays constantly in every corner of the Franklin Food Bank, especially in the market. The leaders of this organization are dedicated to breaking the stigma of needing food assistance using joy as their hammer. Neighbors needing help with groceries are not just welcome here, they are celebrated.
The Franklin Food Bank, while proud of how far they have come as an organization, is continuously looking at ways to improve. Derek recognizes the importance of developing a staff and volunteer base with various opportunities for learning, such as workshops covering Trauma-Informed, DEI, Change Management and Hospitality. Finally, throughout 2023 Derek led the staff through a close reading of an incredibly innovative book about progressive food banks, Reinventing Food Banks and Pantries by Katie S. Martin. Each month, the Franklin Food Bank staff gathered for a book study, challenging each other, analyzing program choices and imagining the future together.
The Franklin Food Bank works hard to provide the highest level of service to neighbors each day. This time of year is no different. Franklin Township is, according to Derek Smith, an incredibly diverse town. The neighbors of the Franklin Food Bank hail from over 40 amazing countries and celebrate dozens and dozens of holidays all throughout the year – each with its own unique food-centric traditions. To capture the beauty of this time of the year, Derek and his team are increasing the varieties and amounts of foods available to help support shared meals.
In an effort to increase awareness in their town, the food bank team has a monthly spot-on with Joel and Maryann on the morning show on Magic 98.3. They have a podcast – where they interview leaders and authors working on food security. Derek sits on local, regional, county and state coalitions – each dedicated to best practices and group efforts on this work.
Finally, the Franklin Food Bank recognizes, as many progressive pantries have, that it takes more than food to solve hunger. This year, Derek and his team launched wraparound services, including mobile medical units, SNAP application assistance, and nutrition classes, with more to come next year.
The Franklin Food Bank Client Choice Market is open Monday through Thursday and Saturday. They have evening and weekend hours to help accommodate families and neighbors who work during the day. Whether it’s their cozy, joyful market, their eagerness to do better each day, or their hunger for learning how better to meet their neighbors where they are, it feels good to know that the Franklin Food Bank is out there, fighting the stigma with smiles, fighting hunger with heart.