Julia Whitson

Tools & Talk Aimed Toward Success

Our national affiliation with Feeding America provides us with some very valuable tools to use in our programs reflected in our mission. The boiled down version of our mission is to provide Help for Today and Hope for Tomorrow. The gathering of resources includes, but not limited to – food deemed unsalable, but still nutritious and usable, the gathering of time and talents through volunteers and those who are willing to deeply engage in helping those in poverty committed to finding a way out.

The Help for Today is visible in the form of 1) semi-trucks unloading food to waiting families in cars in line for hours, 2) church food pantries serving people who walk in looking for enough resources to cover the gap in their ability to feed their families.

Hope for Tomorrow looks like 1) now in the evenings at several neighborhood schools who are creating a new positive relationship with hundreds of families while distributing food, and 2) this also can be found in weekly evening meals shared between people in poverty and those working with them to assist in finding a way out. Our Delaware County Circles Program has engaged people in poverty, middle income and wealth to regularly meet and form intentional relationships by providing a listening ear, tools and methods designed to provide a pathway out of poverty aimed at self-sufficiency.

The Map the Meal Gap study provided and updated annually by Feeding America gives us up to date data points to keep us on target with all these efforts. From this study we know that the average food insecure person has a gap of about 7 pounds of food each week that they are not able to cover from all their resources. So a family of 4 would need to secure about 28 pounds of food each week to have their food needs met and not miss any meals. This piece of data is the baseline for distribution in our School Pantry Program and how we will be working with new agencies in the future.

We are now in the midst of meetings in each of the 8 counties we serve in East Central Indiana. These County Conversations are designed for open 2-way communication with all our agencies. We hear and share plans on moving forward to manage the effort of providing hunger relief (Help for Today), and relationship building with Circles and in our neighborhood schools with staff and parents (Hope for Tomorrow). We have engaged all counties with this type of direct communication for about 4 years and it has proven to be effective. Our Program Manager, Warehouse Manager and I will be there to dialogue about questions, concerns and share ideas. This has proven to be effective in eliminating ambiguity and broken lines of communication. We would love for all agencies to participate but attendance is optional. We have much to gather. If you, the public would like to participate, we would love to work with you.

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Pulling in the Same Direction

We have a small staff compared to most food banks (regional warehouse & distribution centers) – 18 to be exact. It is very important that our staff is on the same page with our planning and efforts to drive our programming to the highest possible level of impact we can produce. We could not reach the people we reach without lots of help from lots of people.

We work with a dedicated group of agency partners who are on the front lines of distributing food to struggling people through church food pantries, soup kitchens and community centers.

These dedicated people have devoted many years to opening their doors to the community to serve as each feels called to do so by conscience or faith and sometimes both.

Our connections continue now through the school systems in several counties. We will have 12 schools in several counties now working with us to reach struggling parents and their children with not just food assistance, but new positive relationships that are building the foundation for children to improve and consider a brighter future that they had thought about before. There are even connections within each school program with local churches, businesses, organizations and individuals that have come together to foster this relationship.

We have a direct service program for food distribution in each county called the Tailgate Distribution. This is happening with the support of some very dedicated volunteers who brave the elements and use their hands and backs to get large amounts of food out to a large number of people in a short time. Many locations are staffed by unique volunteers who have stepped up to help for many years.

We are also blessed to have thousands of volunteers who come to our warehouse and help keep our office running, pack and sort food and help keep the facility very clean.

Some come for a special “community work day”. Some come for the reason of satisfying a class requirement or a service learning project, but many come just because they see a need and want to be a part of the solution.

For all of this to function smoothly requires intense coordination by this small staff of people who all are striving to do their best. We feel the effect very quickly when someone is sick or on vacation. This effort allows millions of pounds of food to get into the hands of those who would do without if we weren’t here. This food would be in the landfill and tens of thousands of people would not be eating around the table tonight. In the course of the work week it could easy to begin to take for granted all the human resources we have connection with throughout the 8 counties to make a difference for many people we will never meet. But, it is important to stop and acknowledge all who are involved and just say thank you for all you do to help us all pull in the same direction.

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