INDIANAPOLIS — September is Hunger Action Month and nonprofits like Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana continuously work to make sure one less Hoosier goes hungry.
It’s estimated that 1 in 5 Hoosiers may face food insecurity in their lifetime. In Indianapolis, right now, 1 in every 4 children face hunger.
“You never know what kind of situation you’re going to be in. One day you might be a donor, the next day, and we’ve had it before, somebody is coming to visit our pantry,” said Kathy Hahn Keiner, chief programs and community collaborations officer for Gleaners.
Keiner said Gleaners saw a huge increase in the need for food assistance, especially in March and April 2020. She said the demand has remained high since.
According to Gleaners, in 2020, approximately 40% of their clients came to them for the first time.
“We are seeing new people, new to food assistance, just kind of how do you navigate the system and so forth,” said Keiner.
On Wednesday, the nonprofit held a ribbon-cutting to mark the reopening of its community cupboard, a grocery store-style pantry designed to help those in need of food assistance.
The pantry is newly re-designed, and the waiting room has been eliminated to expand the amount of space they have to offer for customer shopping.
With COVID-19 protocols in place, Gleaners said it is excited to welcome people back for the improved shopping experience, in-person again, for the first time since March 2020.
“We feel it is important to give our neighbors the opportunity to choose what they would like for their families. They know what they need,” said Keiner.
Robin Mueller, a local Hoosier, said she is appreciative of the options being provided. It was her second time utilizing Gleaners’ services for food assistance, but her first seeing the community cupboard.
“The setup is so nice, you can walk down the aisles free, you can pick and choose what you want, it’s just like being at a grocery store,” said Mueller.
“The variety of foods here, it’s all vegetables, everything is good here. Why not come here if you’re having a hard time? It’s all healthy food and it’s your choice what you want to pick,” she continued.
Keiner said there are treats and other options, too, but as food banking has evolved over the years, Gleaners has adapted with it.
“We are really more strategic and intentional about the type of food that we are providing,” said Keiner. “We think if we can be a regular source of nutritious food, the health outcomes of our neighbors are gonna be better.”
With that in mind, there are a variety of options for those coming to the pantry to choose from, including fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, proteins, dairy, and other goods.
In addition to the food products, the community cupboard also offers other items.
“We’re offering them some non-food items like hygiene, cleaning supplies, we have pet food, today we have lightbulbs in there,” Keiner explained.
Mueller said she wants people who may be experiencing challenges with food insecurities to feel encouraged to seek out programs that can provide help like those offered through Gleaners.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from, what walk of life you come from, how many people are in your family, if you need the help, you need to come,” she said.
Mueller added, “Everybody looks so grateful that they can actually come here and get what they need for their families, but there are a lot of people that come in and out of here.”
The line Wednesday was continuous throughout the morning at the community cupboard. Mueller shared a few things that she appreciated from her first time at the grocery store-style shopping experience.
“They’re wonderful people here and everybody, even though you have a mask on, you can tell they’re smiling underneath it,” she said. “They’re always doing something. When you get up to the counter, they’re like can I help you bag it? Can I help you take it to your car?”
“They’re happy to be here. Happy to help you.”
She hopes her positive experience will encourage others who may be hesitant about seeking help, to utilize the resources in the community.
“We have many programs, just kind of depending on who needs what,” said Keiner.
Gleaners hopes to continue closing the gap on food insecurity.
“We ramped up 137% in our meal distribution even as the need grew, 67%. So, what does that math difference mean? That means we helped close some of that gap that’s persistent for decades,” said John Elliott, president & CEO of Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana.
“As we emerge from the pandemic, we’re determined to keep it closed.”
During Wednesday’s announcement, Elliott said the community cupboard will remain open weekdays for shopping and a drive-thru will remain an option on Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon.
The food bank also plans to pilot a new program at the same location of the pantry reopened on Wednesday, called Gleaners2Go.
It will allow pickup options, similar to grocery stores that offer the curbside, order ahead shopping experience, where customers are able to park in designated areas and pick up their groceries.
If this works, Gleaners will look at locations where it may be able to expand across the 21 counties it serves.
Gleaners is part of the nationwide Feeding America effort and FOX59’s parent company Nexstar Media has committed to two million in donations and television air-time to help support the effort over the next two years.
You can find out more information by clicking here.
Gleaners is also asking for volunteers or donations from those who may be able to give, to help support their mission. During Hunger Action Month, where typically $1 could provide up to 5 meals, it will double to provide up to 10 meals, for up to $125,000.
The nonprofit said that was thanks to a generous donation by Corteva Agriscience.