Gleaners distributes more than 41K pounds of food to food pantries

Update:  41,855 pounds of food are going to 56 smaller food pantries in 7 counties. Twenty-four skids of produce were collected.

Original story:

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - More fresh fruit and vegetables are making their way to area food pantries.

The food can be traced back to Gleaners Food Bank and its recently opened produce processing center. On Thursday, the food bank started a new program to spread the food across central Indiana.

Gleaners opened the processing center in May. The center helps Gleaners buy more fresh produce and deliver it to other large food banks in the area.

“Buying food is the most efficient way for us to serve the most people," said Gleaners Director of Marketing Sarah Estell. "We’re a large distribution center and we are able to buy food at the same prices that the large retail grocery stores buy it.”

For the first time, smaller pantries in the region were able to bring trucks and vans to Gleaners to load up fruits and veggies. The program has been labeled the Premium Produce Patch initiative.

“It’s free of charge to them," said Estell. "There’s no share fee or distribution fee or anything like that associated with it. We just want to get as much healthy produce out that we can.”

Gleaners' goal is to give out 16,000 pounds of fresh produce every month. The food bank will hold another pick-up produce day on Friday before considering changes to improve the program. After that, the food bank plans to hold Premium Produce Patch days at least once a month.

“We’re asking them to take what they can distribute," Estell said. "That’s what they’re doing. These are those smaller agencies that don’t have the capacity to distribute enough, and they don’t have a place to store it.”

The food bank could see as many as 40 area food banks roll through. Volunteers with Our Lady of the Greenwood Roman Catholic Church came by to pick up peppers, apples, potatoes and sweet potatoes.

Volunteers at the church's food pantry said it serves between 550 and 700 families each month.

“It’s something they need," said volunteer Ron Nevitt. "If we didn’t have that all they would be getting is canned goods so  I think that makes a big difference.”

Nevitt said the only other produce the pantry gets to donated produce from the parish.

Fruit and vegetables was once something food banks rarely had on their shelves, especially produce that wasn't on the verge of rotting. Estell said providing fresher choices can lead to an overall healthier state.

"People who are food insecure are at a much higher risk for diabetes, for heart disease, obesity or chronic illness and that has to do with the cost of food, the cost of a meal and to make it," she said. "The process food has a lot of extra things in them we don’t necessarily need.“

Gleaners will launch it's Portable Produce Patch initiative next week. The food bank will send a refrigerated truck to an area and allow nearby food banks to pick up produce, much like they did on Thursday.