100M meals served: Gleaners Food Bank looks back on 1 year since COVID-19 emergency response

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INDIANAPOLIS — It has been one year since Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana started its emergency operation in response to COVID-19.

Since then, the food bank and its partners have served over 100 million meals —  a 137% increase from the year before.

Gleaners’ President and CEO John Elliott says they realized one year ago that they had to make changes to adapt to the pandemic. A big part of that was turning food distribution from an in-person shopping experience into a drive through.

Elliott says over the past year his team has worked very hard to adjust to the increase they’ve had in need. It came in the face of a major setback. Gleaners lost their largest single source of food: donated surplus from retail stores.

According to Elliott, they had to raise more money than ever before to go out and buy the food that was previously donated.

“But then when Gleaners and other hunger relief charities were shopping for food, so to speak, with food companies, those companies were already struggling with keeping retail stores in stock,” Elliott explained. “So we found ourselves in line behind our most generous corporate donors. Certainly, more than an awkward situation.”

Another struggle Gleaners has experienced during the pandemic is a lack of volunteers.

About 40% of the work was done by volunteers, and once the pandemic started, they lost a lot of their volunteer help as the work doubled. But they were able to make it through the help from the National Guard and temporary workers.

 “We had to be very nimble. We had to be very creative to deal with constantly changing circumstances. Every job in the Gleaners organization changed. The food supply chain quickly became more disrupted than any time since World War Two,” Elliott said.

Gleaners is commemorating the past year on Tuesday.

Around 8:30 a.m., staff and community partners, as well as a representative from the mayor’s office, will reflect over what they were able to accomplish.

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