Gleaners opens new regional produce processing center

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- The amount of fruit and vegetables going to help hunger relief is on the rise. Gleaners Food Bank launched a new regional produce distribution center Monday that will improve produce selection and quality throughout a 21-county service area.

The announcement allows Gleaners to help food pantries provide more well-balanced meals to Hoosiers.

“When food banks first started, they were really at the mercy of what people chose to donate,” said Gleaners president and CEO John Elliott. "Loose can goods were donated and loose cans went out of those food banks to local pantries and that was the entire system. Gradually over time, money has been donated, so food banks could shop some of the time. For us about 20 percent of the food we distribute is purchased and 80 percent is donated. What we really need is to reverse that so we are buying most of the food we distribute.”

In the past, food banks, such as Gleaners, would get donated produce with a day or two to spare before it needed to be thrown out. With the food bank purchasing its own, the food has a longer shelf life and should get to those who need it with many more nutrients still intact.

"We want a good nutritious balance and why shouldn’t the families we help have the access to the same nutritional variety that the rest of us have," Elliott said.

Now available is more, high quality, produce and a bigger variety. The processing center makes Gleaners a customer, who can buy the fruits and vegetables it wants straight from the farm.

Gleaners can purchase truckloads of a fruit or vegetable, haul it to the center and place it in a giant refrigerated room. From there, a variety of fruits and vegetables can be split up and then shipped out to food banks across Gleaners' service area.

To help with transportation, Gleaners also received a new 53-foot refrigerated trailer that will be used to take produce to the 21-county service area. The trailer was purchased through a grant from the Morgan Stanley Foundation, with the help of Feeding America. The grant is part of the foundation's recently announced $8 million, four-year pledge to support Feeding America, which works with over 200 food banks in the country.

Besides serving its regular service area, Gleaners' processing center will also serve 40 food banks in eight states through the Feeding America network.

On hand to see the new processing center was retired U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, who first learned of the state's hunger crisis while a member of the Indianapolis School Board in the 1960s.

“Gleaners Food Bank provides a critical safety net in times of need," Lugar said. "I applaud the collaboration and activist vision of Gleaners’ leadership in tandem with Feeding America to provide Hoosiers in need with wholesome fruits and vegetables.”