by Chris Bavender
Too many Indianapolis residents face food insecurity on a daily basis. The USDA defines food insecurity as a socioeconomic condition of limited or uncertain access to enough food to support a healthy life. According to Feeding Indiana’s Hungry, the state’s association of food banks, 19.4 percent of the population in Marion County is food insecure, but 32 percent of those who are food insecure are ineligible for federal nutrition programs, such as SNAP benefits. Many children eligible for free or reduced-price breakfast and/or lunch during the school year go hungry during summer break. Some face the temptation to turn to petty crime to feed themselves and their siblings.
In 2015 former Indianapolis Public Safety Director Troy Riggs (now IMPD chief) gave a presentation to the Gleaners board and staff. He highlighted six focus areas with the county’s highest crime rates and detailed the adverse effects of poverty and hunger in those areas. Sloan Shockley, senior and mobile pantry programs manager for Gleaners, said, “Director Riggs’ findings and discussion left Gleaners with the need to step in and help by doing what we do best—fight hunger.”
The inaugural program—which ran for a 13-week period last summer—served more than 16,441 households for a total of 62,043 individuals. Of those, almost 28,000 were children 17 years old and younger, and 2,481 were military veterans. The breakdown of the household ages served was:
- birth to 5 – 8,927 individuals
- 6 to 17 – 18,859 individuals
- 18 to 64 – 30,072 individuals
- 65 and older – 4,185 individuals
Beyond providing supplemental nutritious food to those in need, the unique partnership between Gleaners and the City’s public safety agencies has helped build trust and community in the neighborhoods. The partners seek to build on that success this summer.
“Gleaners has chosen to continue the CARE Mobile Pantry Program because it made a difference. Reports were positive from the public safety providers, and if our partnership can continue making an upward impact, we should,” Shockley said.
The CARE Mobile Pantries began in June and will continue through Aug. 27. Distribution locations will continue to be in or near IMPD’s six focus areas, identified by intersections at 16th and Tibbs, 29th and MLK, 34th and Illinois, 38th and Sherman, 42nd and Post, and New York and Sherman. The Midtown pantry is scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays at Trinity Episcopal Church, 3243 N. Meridian St.
“Last year the CARE Mobile Pantry took place at North United Methodist. While it provided a good location, we found a number of clients lived further south. Following the summer program, Trinity Episcopal Church stepped forward and offered to do additional distributions,” Shockley said. “The site worked out great for volunteers and there is a large amount of parking, which will be beneficial for provider setup.”
In addition to fresh produce, protein items, and other options to extend or provide actual meals for pantry shoppers, Gleaners is working to develop menus for each week that provide more consistency and nutrition. And, new this year, the pantries will include wraparound services such as mental health counseling and a Reading & Wonder activity featuring book exchanges, vocabulary cards, and nutrition education.
“As we collectively continue to address hunger, public safety, and quality of life in Indianapolis, we are looking for ways to further enhance what we offer beyond food,” Gleaners president and CEO Cindy Hubert said. “Those who suffer from hunger can oftentimes experience despair and desperation. We want to make sure we are addressing all of their needs in order to provide for the best outcome.”
Shockley said she is excited to extend Gleaners’ partnerships to “work with organizations that can provide additional resources to our shoppers” that address overall health and wellness. In addition to public safety agencies like IMPD, Indianapolis Fire Department and Indianapolis Emergency Management Services, she said partners include IU Health, Marion County Health Department, Eskenazi Health, Midtown Community Mental Health, Legacy House, Indianapolis Public Schools, and Reach for Youth. “Services will include books for children, counseling, informational materials, and HIV, STD, and hepatitis screenings.”
The pantries are open to the public and no ID is required. Those attending are asked only for their ZIP code and the number of people in the household, broken down by age groups. “A name is not necessary to receive food assistance,” Shockley said, noting that people are often distrustful of what will be done with their personal information. She said distrust may prevent people from seeking the help they need. “By collecting only ZIP code and ages in the household, Gleaners knows how far people are traveling to get help and the demographics of their households. Gleaners then looks at ways we might help more, support local pantries, or share the data with service providers to help the community.”
Shockley said the long lines at last summer’s pantries—many people came out hours ahead of the scheduled start time—came as no surprise. “When someone is willing to spend hours in line waiting for food, especially in all weather conditions, they are in need of assistance,” she said. “Not being able to provide for yourself or your family is heartbreaking and overwhelming for most of our shoppers. It is a humbling experience to expose yourself publicly to accepting assistance.”
The long lines also underscore the data showing that many in Indianapolis go hungry. “Statistics can show us rates of poverty and other facts, but seeing the struggles and hearing the stories our shoppers share is enough to know that the need is great,” Shockley said. “Looking at the current economic situation, and with nutritious foods like meats and produce being very expensive, there is often no room in the budget for those food items.”
The determination of those who queued up last summer provided insight into the family dynamics of those served. “We knew this, but were often reminded of the sheer selflessness of parents and grandparents who provide for the children, often going without themselves,” she said. “We also learned that when it comes to helping put food on the table for those in need, that our community, volunteers, and staff didn’t hesitate to make it happen,” Shockley said. “It was incredible to work with our public safety volunteers, a great group of dedicated servants!”
For additional information on the CARE Mobile Pantry Program information call 317-829-1800 or visit project web site.