How One PORCH Co-Founder Is Taking the ‘Neighbors Helping Neighbors’ Model Across the Nation
PORCH’s model works, and it’s being replicated across the country. Currently, 24 PORCH chapters are operating in seven states, with more coming soon. PORCH Chapel Hill-Carrboro co-founder Christine Cotton is the driving force behind this, as she leads the helm of PORCH Communities.
Through a combination of her professional background in project management, nonprofit development, and educational consulting and her dedication to serving others, Christine’s goal is to utilize her skills and compassion to keep PORCH Communities growing into an organization that will be relevant in the community for years to come.
We sat down with Christine to learn more about the impact of PORCH Communities – keep reading for our Q&A! And please spread the word if you know someone in another city or state who may be interested in launching a PORCH chapter! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
For those who aren’t familiar, can you offer a big-picture glance at PORCH Communities?
PORCH chapters across the country fight hunger and food insecurity through a simple “neighbors helping neighbors” model. These community-based hunger relief organizations support local pantries, schools, and families, filling gaps in traditional hunger relief systems.
PORCH Communities, at the national level, works closely with local leaders to start, run and grow community chapters. We primarily focus on developing and supporting a repeatable monthly food drive program that can be easily started and sustained.
Each chapter manages its own monthly food drive and expands at its own pace, often adding programs to provide healthy snacks to school children and fresh food to families in need.
Chapters receive operational guidance, funding, and marketing support from the PORCH Communities board and staff as well as access to the entire network of peer PORCH chapter leaders.
How many PORCH chapters do you expect to add in the next six months?
I anticipate that we will add four to six new chapters in the next six months. Currently 100 percent of our growth is based on word of mouth – friends sharing their PORCH experience with friends in other locations.
Can you quantify the annual impact of these programs?
We estimate that in 2021, PORCH Communities chapters will support 50 local pantries and provide over $1.3 million in hunger relief to their local communities. This tremendous impact on local hunger relief will be accomplished through a dedicated volunteer network that will contribute over 60,000 volunteer hours.
How did you transition from PORCH Chapel Hill-Carrboro to PORCH Communities? What was the impetus?
Over 10 years ago, when PORCH first started in Chapel Hill, there was an immediate interest from neighboring communities who were interested in replicating the monthly neighborhood food drive model. I really enjoyed working with these community volunteers and helping them start and build PORCH chapters. Over the years, I tracked and documented all that we were doing in Chapel Hill and created templates for all of our processes. People would hear about PORCH through friends, or by visiting Chapel Hill and experiencing it for themselves and deciding to bring the model to their community. A few even heard about PORCH through a hunger relief Facebook page. New chapter growth was steady. Then, COVID hit and the need for hunger relief grew and the desire to help in a safe and efficient way resonated even more. It was the right time to think about how we might be able to scale and expand the PORCH model to even more communities to help address a growing need.
Knowing that PORCH Chapel Hill-Carrboro was in good hands, and that with a focused effort, so many more communities could start their own local hunger relief initiative, I knew it was time to step away from PORCH Chapel Hill-Carrboro and channel my energy into creating an organization that would support the existing PORCH communities as well as help those that wanted to bring the model to their hometowns.
In April 2020, I reached out to Michael Frisch and Steve Spokane, two amazingly dedicated and talented professionals, who also believed in the mission of supporting hunger relief and the value of the replicable PORCH model. Together, we established PORCH Communities as a new entity dedicated to starting, running, and growing community chapters nationwide.
Today, we focus on providing operational guidance, funding, collaborative support, and marketing assistance to enable local leaders to quickly and easily launch and, over time, grow their hunger relief and food insecurity programs.
Our vision is a PORCH in every community.
What is it about the PORCH model that makes it replicable and feasible for communities across the country?
PORCH is easy, consistent, inclusive, and flexible.
It is the ease and the organization that make the PORCH model replicable and accessible for any community. Once a community volunteer reaches out, they are provided with support, guidance, and all of the materials necessary. We share a start up kit with an easy step-by-step guide, sample emails to share with friends and neighbors, flyer templates, digital support, and more.
The consistency of monthly food drives allows community volunteers to make a commitment to PORCH and provide an ongoing and stable supply of food to pantries and program participants.
PORCH Communities is inclusive. Anyone can help by donating, collecting, sorting, distributing, and/or organizing volunteers in as little as a few hours a month.
And, by working with chapter leaders and volunteers, PORCH provides flexibility. Once established in a community, there is never pressure to volunteer or donate. From our years of experience, we know that this works best for everyone. Our volunteers and donors know that we appreciate all that they do to support local hunger relief and most often, there is an outpouring of support.
What would you say to someone who is considering taking the leap and launching PORCH in their own community?
Today is the perfect day to reach out and learn about PORCH. We have a proven and effective model, as well as the tools and resources to help you every step of the way. We make it easy for you to help those in your community who may be facing hunger or food insecurity.
So, reach out (email@example.com) to learn more and find how simple it is to get started. We can connect you with leaders from both new and more established chapters to hear about their experiences and can share materials and details on the simple start up process.
What do you love most about your job?
Lots of things! I love getting to know so many good people – hearing their stories about what motivates them to get involved in local hunger relief and then sharing the PORCH model to help them create impactful programs in their communities. I love working with our chapter leaders – fostering collaboration among our chapters and learning about the creative ways they utilize the PORCH Communities tools to increase their contributions to local food pantries. I love mentoring our student and young professional volunteers – teaching them about nonprofits and hunger issues, best practices and problem solving, skill development and creating more efficient operations. All while shining a light on the need and making an impact on local hunger.
I love that each day is different and knowing that at the end of each day, I have made a small difference for someone else and hopefully inspired them to volunteer locally and support the growing need for hunger relief.