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Alleviating Hunger One Family at a Time: Community Harvest Food Bank

Social GoodAudrey Whetstone

A new word has recently entered our lexicon: hangry. A combination of "hungry" and "angry," it is used to describe the increased irritation we feel when we are hungry. It's a funny concept that a lot of people experience and reminds me of the popular Snicker's campaign, "You're not you when you're hungry."

But for some people, feeling hungry, and the more troubling situation of having no food to satisfy that hunger, is a common part of everyday life. Some people aren't able to wander into their kitchen for a mid-afternoon snack, leisurely browsing the contents of the fully-stocked fridge and the overflowing pantry, trying to decide between Cheez-Its or Oreos. These people struggle to keep themselves and their families fed, sometimes going hungry for days when their paychecks have to go to rent, utilities, or school supplies.

This situation, of not knowing where your next meal will come from, is called food insecurity. 1 in 7 people in Allen County are food insecure. While these people might not starve outright, they likely don't have access to nutritious food and often don't know how they'll get their next meal.

These struggling people are the ones that Community Harvest Food Bank on Tillman Road work to serve.

The front of Community Harvest Food Bank. The place is huge. (Photo via)

The front of Community Harvest Food Bank. The place is huge. (Photo via)

I spoke with Steve Corona, the Resource Development Officer and Grant Writer, at the food bank. He gave me a tour of the building and then we sat down for an interview. The food bank's mission is to alleviate hunger, which is accomplished through a variety of programs focused on many different demographics.

‘Food insecurity’ means that these people really aren’t sure when they’re going to get their next decent meal. They’re not going to starve, but they may not eat well, maybe junk food or a bowl of cereal, but they’re really not sure how they’re going to pay for their next meal.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves; first, a little bit about the history of the food bank. It was originally founded in 1983, after the International Harvester plant in Fort Wayne closed down. When the plant closed, 2,200 people were left without jobs in the area, which caused understandable uncertainty and an influx of families who didn't know where the money for their next meal would come from.

The food bank opened to meet the new need, and at the time, they thought it would close once International Harvester workers found new jobs and no longer needed the assistance. Instead, the food bank stayed open long past the time those specific workers needed it due to a continuing need for accessible food from the larger community.

And accessible food is what they've been providing. Steve admitted that when he started at Community Harvest over a year ago, he was immediately surprised at the level of need in the community for food. Community Harvest serves Allen, Adams, DeKalb, Huntington, Noble, LeGrange, Steuben, Wells, and Whitley counties. Last year alone, they distributed nearly 13 million pounds of foodyes, millionswhich ends up being almost 11 million meals. A majority of the food is donated, either by members of the community, or food industry businesses such as Target, Wal-Mart, Meijer, and Kroger.

Community Harvest directly distributes food through its Community Cupboard, but a lot of the food donated to them ends up in the larger community at other food pantries and churches. They have a web of member agencies who order food from Community Harvest, to then distribute in their own pantries.

Pallets of food ordered by member agencies and waiting in the warehouse.

Pallets of food ordered by member agencies and waiting in the warehouse.

The Community Cupboard is set up to look like a grocery store. Visitors are given shopping carts to fill with food, and they can peruse the aisles and get what they want to eat. This allows for a lot of freedom of choice for the people who need food. Then, once visitors are done shopping, the cart is rolled onto a scale that measures how many pounds of food they have. Visitors might have a voucher for 50 or 100 pounds of food, depending on their level of need and the number of mouths they need to feed. These vouchers are provided by member agencies following an interview process where the need of the family is determined.

The coffee shelf at the Community Cupboard. You can see how strongly it resembles Wal-Mart or Meijer.

The coffee shelf at the Community Cupboard. You can see how strongly it resembles Wal-Mart or Meijer.

The scale where the food is weighed at the Community Cupboard. 

The scale where the food is weighed at the Community Cupboard. 

I really liked the setup of the Community Cupboard, however, another cool program Steve told me about is Farm Wagon. Farm Wagon is a mobile pantry that makes 81 monthly visits in the 9 county area, and what makes it special is that it delivers refrigerated, perishable food. We have all seen calls to action from different food pantries requesting "non-perishable food," such as canned and boxed foods, and that is because most food pantries don't have much (or any) refrigerated space. Farm Wagon helps people get perishable food they need, such as dairy products, meat, juice, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Along with Community Cupboard and Farm Wagon, Community Harvest Food Bank also offers programs aimed at children and seniors. For children, they have the Kids Cafe and Kids BackPack programs. Kids Cafe is an after-school program where Community Harvest has partnered with local youth centers. Community Harvest gives kids a hot meal after school, and the youth centers have activities for the kids, such as study tables or athletic events. The other program for children is Kids BackPack which sends needy children home with backpacks of food on the weekends to ensure they get enough to eat. 250 backpacks are distributed at youth centers each week through this program.

The program for seniors, SeniorPak, delivers food to 700 homebound seniors in the area. 40 pounds of food is delivered monthly to each of these seniors by volunteer delivery drivers. A variety of foods are included, such as juice, canned fruits and vegetables, pasta, and bread, to help supplement any groceries that seniors have bought themselves.

Where does Community Harvest keep all this food? In a 38,000 square foot warehouse, of course.

I didn't manage to get a picture of the warehouse on the tour, but let me tell you, it is huge. Here is just one of the aisles of the warehouse from the Community Harvest Facebook page.

I didn't manage to get a picture of the warehouse on the tour, but let me tell you, it is huge. Here is just one of the aisles of the warehouse from the Community Harvest Facebook page.

The warehouse is massive, as it needs to be for the 12 million or so pounds of food travelling through it each year. This warehouse is the distribution point of the food: once the food reaches the warehouse, it will be stocked in Community Cupboard, packed into backpacks, or sent to area food pantries. Obviously the logistics of this process require many volunteers; Community Harvest only employs 35 staff members. Last year alone, 10,265 volunteers donated 92,000 hours of their time to helping the food bank. This heavy use of volunteers allows for 97% of Community Harvest's revenue to go towards its mission of alleviating hunger.

Volunteers have many jobs; one of them is repackaging bulk items the food bank receives from retailers, such as pretzels or popcorn, into smaller portions to be distributed to families.

Volunteers have many jobs; one of them is repackaging bulk items the food bank receives from retailers, such as pretzels or popcorn, into smaller portions to be distributed to families.

Volunteers also make laundry detergent for families. While Community Harvest is a "food" bank, they also provide more than just food!

Volunteers also make laundry detergent for families. While Community Harvest is a "food" bank, they also provide more than just food!

Other non-food items offered at the Community Cupboard.

Other non-food items offered at the Community Cupboard.

They even offer supplies for furry family members.

They even offer supplies for furry family members.

Community Harvest does all it can to keep our community fed and healthy. From the multitude of programs, to the staff members' and volunteers' dedication to feeding others, Community Harvest Food Bank is an incredible organization, and we're lucky as a community to have them with us.

Interested in volunteering at the food bank? Here's a list of volunteer duties and who to contact about volunteering.

You can also like their Facebook page to keep up-to-date on everything going on.

 

Did you like this article? Read the others in this non-profit series:

Part 1: Dare to Dream Youth Ranch

Part 2: The Literacy Alliance

Part 3: Mental Health America in Allen County 

 

 

(Photos courtesy of the author unless stated otherwise)