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INDIANAPOLIS – September is Anti Hunger Month and nonprofits like Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana are constantly working to make sure one less Hoosier is hungry.
It is estimated that 1 in 5 Hoosiers may experience food insecurity in their lifetime. In Indianapolis today, 1 in 4 children go hungry.
âYou never know what situation you’re going to end up in. One day you might be a donor, the next day, and we’ve already had it, someone is coming to visit our pantry,â said Kathy Hahn Keiner, responsible for community programs and collaborations for gleaners.
Keiner said Gleaners saw a huge increase in the need for food aid, particularly in March and April 2020. She said demand has remained high since.
According to Gleaners, in 2020 around 40% of their customers came to see them for the first time.
âWe see new people, new to food aid, just how to navigate the system and so on,â Keiner said.
On Wednesday, the association hosted 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 has been recently redesigned and the waiting room has been removed to increase the amount of space they have to offer for customer purchases.
With COVID-19 protocols in place, Gleaners said he was excited to welcome people back for an enhanced shopping experience, in person again, for the first time since March 2020.
âWe think it’s important to give our neighbors the ability to choose what they want for their families. They know what they need, âKeiner said.
Robin Mueller, a local Hoosier, said she appreciates the options on offer. This was the second time she had used Gleaners’ services for food aid, but it was the first time she had seen the community closet.
âThe setup is so nice, you can walk the aisles freely, you can choose what you want, it’s like you’re in a grocery store,â Mueller said.
âThe variety of food here is all the vegetables, everything is good here. Why not come here if you are having a hard time? It’s just healthy food and it’s up to you what you want to choose, âshe continued.
Keiner said there are treats and other options as well, but as food banks have evolved over the years, Gleaners has adapted.
âWe’re really more strategic and intentional about the type of food we provide,â Keiner said. “We believe that if we can be a regular source of nutritious food, the health outcomes of our neighbors will be better.”
With that in mind, there are a variety of options for those who come to the pantry, including fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, protein, dairy, and more.
In addition to food items, the community cupboard also offers other items.
âWe offer them non-food items like hygiene, cleaning supplies, we have pet food, today we have blisters in there,â Keiner explained.
Mueller said she wanted people at risk of food insecurity to feel encouraged to seek out programs that can provide help like those offered by Gleaners.
âIt doesn’t matter where you are from, what path you are from, how many people are in your family, if you need help you have to come,â she said.
Mueller added, “Everyone looks so grateful that they can come here and get what they need for their families, but there are a lot of people coming in and out of here.”
The Wednesday line was continuous all morning at the community closet. Mueller shared a few things she’s enjoyed since her first grocery store-style shopping experience.
âThey are wonderful people here and everyone, even if you are wearing a mask you can tell they are smiling underneath,â she said. âThey are always doing something. When you get up at the counter, they wonder if I can help you wrap it up? Can I help you take it in your car? “
âThey are happy to be here. Happy to help you.
She hopes her positive experience will encourage others who might be reluctant to ask for help to use community resources.
âWe have a lot of programs, which kind of depends on who needs what,â Keiner said.
Gleaners hopes to continue to bridge the food insecurity divide.
âWe increased our meal distribution by 137% even though the needs increased by 67%. So what does this mathematical difference mean? It means we’ve helped close part of this gap that has persisted for decades, âsaid John Elliott, President and CEO of Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana.
âAs we come out of the pandemic, we are determined to keep it closed. “
In Wednesday’s announcement, Elliott said the community closet will remain open weekdays for shopping and 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 in the pantry reopened on Wednesday, called Gleaners2Go.
It will allow pickup options, similar to grocery stores that offer a curbside shopping experience, where customers can park in designated areas and do their shopping.
If that works, Gleaners will be looking for places it can possibly grow in the 21 counties it serves.
Gleaners is part of the nationwide Feeding America effort and FOX59’s parent company, Nexstar Media, has pledged two million donations and television airtime to help support the effort over the two coming years.
You can get more information by clicking here.
Gleaners also solicits volunteers or donations from those who might give, to help support their mission. During Anti Hunger Month, where typically $ 1 could provide up to 5 meals, it will double to provide up to 10 meals, for a maximum of $ 125,000.
The association said it was thanks to a generous donation from Corteva Agriscience.