Closing the Meal Gap: Feeding More People Better Food More Often

Closing the Meal Gap: Feeding More People Better Food More Often image
A key goal in our strategic plan is to distribute 2.5 times the amount of food by 2023. It’s not just the amount of food, however, but also the nutritional value of that food. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a key component to improving the health and well-being of our clients. They also pose unique challenges for our agencies, many of whom are not equipped to handle large amounts of perishable food.

That’s where a variety of corporate, community, foundations and individual donors have stepped up to offer support. Thanks to generous gifts from IU Health and Walmart, refrigerators and freezers have been purchased for agencies that have capacity to distribute healthy perishables, but not the space to properly store them. In addition, Conagra, the Efroymson Family Fund, and many other generous donors have given funds to our Produce Hope initiative to purchase healthy fruits and vegetables for our clients.

Rush County Community Assistance received 2 commercial freezers thanks to the Walmart grant. They are also opening and operating a school-based pantry in Milroy, where refrigerators, freezers and shelving is being provided by IU Health.

According to Darilyn Bedel, the director of Rush County Community Assistance, public and private support and an outpouring of assistance from their community made all the difference. “We always served a lot of people, but like most places, we were serving them the cast offs that other people didn’t want. Nothing I would choose to put on my own table, but random cans and boxes and bags of food that really isn’t that good for you. Then, Gleaners started to offer produce – the same beautiful fruit and veggies you see at the grocery.”

Bedel says that when they were first approached about produce almost 2 years ago, they didn’t think they would be able to benefit from the program.

“We served a lot of people but didn’t have any place to put the food before our distributions or to put the leftovers. The last thing we wanted to do was to have to throw out good food.”

She said that they were challenged again last year when Gleaners asked all agencies to allow clients to come at least twice a month for food. At first, they were reluctant. “We thought this meant doubling the people served and we didn’t see how we could do that. Gleaners agency staff came to talk to us and promised to do everything they could do to support us. They made good on that promise, and I’m so glad we took that leap together.”

The support provided by donors and staff gave Bedel and her board the confidence to take on another big project – the opening of a school-based pantry in Milroy. This pantry will be the first of its kind, a school-based pantry that is eligible to distribute government commodities. This means plenty of dairy, in addition to the fresh produce from Gleaners.

In addition to the support of capacity through new refrigerators, freezers and shelving, the new pantry received support from their community club to purchase carts for client use, as well as support from a local vendor who is providing them with decals so they can post their hours on the pantry window for all to see.

The pantry is being stocked in mid-June with a goal to open in July or August. It will serve the school and the community of Milroy. This community was previously served by a Gleaners Mobile Pantry, meaning weather cancellations were always a possibility.

Thanks to donors like you and our corporate and foundation partners, Rush County is an example of what can be done when we build up the capacity of our agency network, support their needs, and together, feed more people.