PACK THE PANTRIES: Tackling food insecurity one home delivery at a time

INDIANAPOLIS – Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana and the Midwest Food Bank are growing their footprint and partnering with more pantries to give hungry Hoosiers access to food.

Around one in five people in Central Indiana struggles with hunger or food hardship, an issue that makes it difficult to succeed in other aspects of life, including work and school.

The pandemic has highlighted an even greater demand for food, but the problem of food insecurity in Indiana isn’t new.

“For decades prior to the pandemic, the state of Indiana has struggled with what we call a meal gap,” said John Elliott, President and CEO of Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana.

Elliott said the meal gap had been brought down from a high of more than 200 million meals a year missed by Hoosiers prior to the pandemic, to about 170 million.

“That number was still there as we went into the pandemic, how many people were in need, and then as the pandemic hit, we had all these new families and neighbors enter the food line and join those who were already there,” he said.

With a more than 67{c33c21346ff5e26ab8e0ae3d29ae4367143f0d27c235e34c392ea37decdb8bed} increase in the need in Indiana, Elliott said Gleaners has doubled its meal distribution.

Recognizing the number of people in need and a challenge to reach those people through current hunger relief efforts, Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana began its home delivery program of food pantry items for people in need.

The service, which began in March 2020, completed about 16,000 home deliveries by the end of the fiscal year.

Eric Kent, who coordinates home deliveries at Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, said he begins his day at about 6:30 a.m., loading up the refrigerated van with boxes of fresh produce and dry goods.

Inside of the produce boxes, Kent said, are apples, potatoes, onions, carrots and sometimes bell peppers, offering a variety options for people hoping to cook healthy meals.

He said when it comes to the dry boxes, no two are the same, and allow for people to have different meal options when they receive deliveries.

“It’s usually about anywhere from around 30 deliveries a day,” said Kent. It usually takes him about 35 to 40 minutes to load the van before beginning his route for the day.

“Usually when I have 30 stops it’s about 90 to 100 boxes to load up into the van in the morning.”

Kent said the program is in need of volunteers right now. Ideally, they hope to have about six volunteers per day, at least.

Elliott told FOX59 the pace which volunteers have come in has not been enough to keep up with the higher demand, and they urgently need people to help with home deliveries and packing those boxes.

When there are volunteers able to help, Kent said he personally might have a shorter day of making home deliveries, but if not, he’s typically on the road for quite some time.

“I’m usually I’d say about 10 hours a day doing this,” he said. The food bank has two shifts, one in the morning, the other in the early afternoon to help make the rounds to bringing food to doorsteps.

He helps the volunteers who are out delivering with instructions on what their day will look like.

“Usually they’ll come in and I usually have the van loaded and ready to go and I’ll just have a phone for them, explain how to use the phone, show them the route, and they’ll go out and make their deliveries,” he shared.

Kent used to drive box trucks and semi-trucks, picking up donations and delivering to other food pantries in Indianapolis.

He made the switch to coordinating and doing home deliveries and said, “It’s been one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.”

“It’s just rewarding to be able to see what you’re doing in the community and the smiles that you put on people’s faces,” said Kent.

Kent said prior to taking on the position, he was also helping with mobile pantries, and through this has seen a huge increase in the number of clients.

“One of the really good things about it is, the people that don’t have transportation or aren’t able to drive, this is a good opportunity for them,” he said.

Kent shared, “with the pandemic especially, a lot of people are trying to save money, so spending money on fresh produce isn’t easy.”

Gina Armstrong, one of the program’s recipients, said, “It’s helped a great deal like a great deal with the produce and stuff it’s extremely healthy.”

Armstrong said she has been trying to eat well and feed her grandkids healthy, nutritious food, but it can be challenging when there is somewhere else money is needed more urgently.

“So they provide a lot of useful things,” she said. “I’m really, really appreciative.”

Armstrong wants to encourage others, if you are facing food insecurity, don’t be nervous to reach out for assistance.

“It’ll save you from spending money that you really need for something way more important so this is a great help and you really should reach out,” she said. “They shouldn’t be hesitant to reach out and accept this stuff because it helps a great deal.”

How to volunteer:

For those interested in volunteering with Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, you can go to Gleaners’ website and fill out the interest form.

Anyone in need of assistance who would like to learn more about the home delivery program and check eligibility, you can text Gleaners at 55433 or call the delivery line at 317-742-9111.

Other ways to donate:

If you are interested in donating to Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana or the Midwest Food Bank, you can visit their websites to donate or, you can text a gift to:

  • Midwest: text @MFBINDY to 52014
  • Gleaners: text GIVE to 317-593-2400

Financial donations are requested, rather than food, because Gleaners and Midwest can buy in bulk at wholesale prices, stretching the dollar much further.

Just a $1 donation can provide 5 meals. A $10 gift provides 50 meals and $25 covers 125 meals.

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