This OP-ED was submitted by Bruce Kettler, director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture.
Recently, myself and some of my fellow department of agriculture staff decided to spend a few hours volunteering at two Indiana food banks. If you don’t know our department is incredibly blessed by the Indiana Legislature and by the support of Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, to funnel funding for our Indiana food banks through our department. In 2021, the Indiana Legislature designated $1 million in state funding for organizations supporting food insecure Hoosiers. The funding was disbursed to Indiana’s 11 food banks by the Indiana State Department of Agriculture in July 2021. This funding amount was more than tripled from years past. Each food bank’s distribution amount was determined using The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TFAP) fair share percentages for Indiana, which captures poverty and unemployment levels in each county.
According to Feeding Indiana’s Hungry, nearly 1.2 million Hoosiers were food insecure at the height of the pandemic. In children, the risk was even higher with one in every four children being at risk of hunger. The 11 food banks distributed more than 156 million pounds of food in 2020 to mobile pantries, food pantries and community kitchens across the state. Alongside food supplementation, they also supply Hoosiers in need with household essentials.
Our department awards many grants, both state and federal, to many organizations, businesses and causes, but rarely are we able to see and experience the grants firsthand. So, this opportunity at these two food banks was touching for myself and our staff because we were able to work hand in hand with the organizations and see how the funding is used to assist Hoosiers.
Our first volunteer day was right before Thanksgiving at the Hoosier Hills Food Bank in Bloomington. While at this location, we took bulk cereal they received as a donation and transferred it into gallon bags for redistribution to food pantries around southern Indiana. It was eye opening to see all the resources needed to run, organize and stock a food bank. I was in awe of their sorting systems and trucks of donations were coming in and leaving all morning with all sorts of food products. Better them to keep it organized than me!
The Hoosier Hills Food Bank received $43,500 from our department and that funding allowed them to purchase approximately 73,000 pounds of food to provide 61,000 meals. Hoosier Hills Food Bank member agencies, like pantries and soup kitchens, serve an estimated 7,500 people each week and 25,800 individuals annually.
The second food bank volunteer day was at Community Harvest Food Bank in Fort Wayne. On this brisk morning our staff bundled up and worked their drive through service for senior citizens. It was a pleasure to assist the seniors of Ft. Wayne with obtaining healthy and fresh foods. Community Harvest’s unique drive up system allows Hoosiers to be safely served and the food place directly into their trunks or back seats, this is especially helpful for anyone who is ill or with mobility issues.
Community Harvest Food bank received nearly $100,000 from our department. This funding allowed them to purchase approximately 108,992 pounds of food to provide 90,826 meals. Annually Community Harvest Food Bank and member agencies serve an estimated 80,000 individuals.
During our morning of volunteering our staff manually loaded over 7,000 pounds of produce for 142 families into their vehicles. We also packed 216 bags of groceries for 108 senior citizens.
These volunteer opportunities for our group were a great experience and one we hope to continue in the future. Food banks and pantries rely heavily on volunteers, and I would encourage others to seek opportunities at their local food banks or pantries and lend a helping hand this holiday season and beyond.
May each of you take time to pause, rest and remember the bounty of the great Indiana agriculture industry that we are blessed to support, be a part of or enjoy.