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Remnants of the Hurricane are Still Impacting People

I met Eloy Lora-Trejo Jr. in Dallas last week while attending a Feeding America Fall Conference. Eloy was not with a food bank. He is part of the staff of the Westin Hotel where the conference was held. When we struck up the conversation on Thursday, he told me that he had joined the Westin team in Dallas on Monday. I was a bit taken back at his ease in his new surroundings. He was engaging and made me feel very comfortable as if I was talking to someone I had known for a while. We talked for a minute about the local weather which was a line of strong thunderstorms moving through the area. I shared with him that I had arrived on Tuesday night and had taken public transportation from the airport to where I thought the hotel to be and had gotten within 4 blocks where I had to get off the bus.

The storm was raging and I had to walk carrying my luggage trying to navigate unfamiliar territory in a driving rain at night. My glasses were of no use and reading street signs was really difficult. I managed to take a wrong turn and headed in the wrong direction. The water was over my shoes as I crossed each street and no one was around to ask for directions. I did run across 3 young women huddling under one umbrella and walking quickly coming in the opposite direction across the street. They were laughing hysterically, but I can’t imagine who they were laughing at.
I got to the hotel and was greeted with gasps and jaws dropping as I entered the registration area with other people checking in. The person behind the counter called to get me a couple of towels, but I told him he just needed to get a mop for the puddle I left on the floor. I peeled off the soaking wet clothes and hung them over the bath tub, they dried 2 days later but the shoes didn’t. It really didn’t matter, it was just stuff.

Eloy shared with me that it was not his first week in the hotel industry. He was a supervisor at the JW Marriott on Marco Island up until 2 weeks before. He was there when Hurricane Irma hit the gulf coast. The storm surge completely flooded out the property with lots of collateral damage. His own home had been without power for over 2 weeks. He had invited his displaced friends who were completely wiped out to move in with him so they could at least have a place to sleep.

Eloy’s company had contacted him and said if he wanted they would send him to Dallas to work at the Westin who was short-staffed until things could get back to normal on Marco Island. The management of the Westin was allowing him to live there during his time to work on the property. He was talking about how truly blessed he was to have been connected with this opportunity during this transitional time. He was in communication with his friends who are still staying at his home until their circumstances change, but that could be some time as well. He was as cordial and accommodating as anyone you could ever want to meet and his home and surroundings were literally in shambles, how gracious is that! You could tell the guy was a “pro” in his field and was completely genuine.

Life happens to everyone. Sometimes it’s wet clothes and sometimes you’re completely displaced for months. Next time it could be the other way around. I hope I could rise to the occasion and follow his example. Let’s not forget to consider the other person while standing in wet shoes.

Tim Kean is the President and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana. The Second Harvest Food Bank network of 115-member agencies and programs provides food assistance to more than 70,000 low-income people facing hunger in Blackford, Delaware, Grant, Henry, Jay, Madison, Randolph and Wabash Counties.

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September is Hunger Action Month

September is Hunger Action Month as defined by Feeding America, our national affiliate. The official color for HAM is Orange. The official Hunger Action Day was Thursday, September 14th. Our office entry is decked out for all volunteers to see and get caught up in the effort. Thanks to Will Britton, husband of Stacy Britton, our Coach for our Poverty Alleviation program we have a fantastic full-size graphic of an action hero, complete with cape and tights. Everyone is invited to stand behind it and place their head in the cut-out area for their official picture as a super-hero ready to make a difference for roughly 70, 000 people struggling with food insecurity in our 8 county service area. We encourage them to also snap a picture and post it on social media to their friends and followers and encourage them to get involved as well. I must say I cut quite a dashing figure in my cape and tights with a body like I never had or will have to show my support.

Orange is the hot color in our staff dress code these days. We have challenged our board to break out their favorite orange apparel (which is in short supply for most of us) and snap a picture to post their support as well. It’s not exactly the “ice bucket challenge” but across the nation we hope to set in motion some strong collective energy using the color orange to show not just concern, but action that will move the needle for some 41 million people who struggle to feed their families.

A topic that is a national tragedy we must touch on is the recovery effort in Texas, Florida and possibly other southern states as well. Our national network has already sent 347 semi-loads of food and supplies to Texas with more rolling in every day. Local interest in providing assistance was converted into action through our organization. We have sent supplies of water and paper towels to Texas through a local connection that was assembling supplies in northern Indiana right after the storm has passed. Several regional food banks in Texas were affected or closed, with many of the staffs affected in a significant way, but most have re-opened and are in operation 24/7 for the future until significant progress is made. Equipment, staff and supplies are being sent from around the network to provide round the clock operations. The coordinated effort will continue for many months to come. In Florida, a number of food banks have temporarily closed but anticipate re-opening in the next few days. Florida will no doubt be in similar circumstances and the effort by our network will pick up there as soon as the storm passes. Food and supplies are already being staged in Florida and Georgia.

If an event were to happen right here in East Central Indiana, we can be confident that all the Feeding America network support that is evident in the south right now would be deployed and would remain on-site as long as necessary for things to return to a level of normalcy. Wear your orange as often as possible this month and share your selfie to remind all your friends and family how fortunate we are at this point in time. Let’s all do what we can both locally and in disaster-stricken areas.

Tim Kean is the President and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana. The Second Harvest Food Bank network of 115-member agencies and programs provides food assistance to more than 70,000 low-income people facing hunger in Blackford, Delaware, Grant, Henry, Jay, Madison, Randolph and Wabash Counties.

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Medical Students Get Hands-on Experience

Twenty- four 1st year medical students enrolled in the I.U. School of Medicine, I.U. Ball Memorial Campus visited our facility on August 14th for more interaction and hands on engagement with us. August 11th, Sarah Rivera, our Programs Manager, Dorica Watson, our Community Engagement Manager and I spent 2 hours in their class room to share with them some insights with poverty, food insecurity, prospective and relationships between wealth, middle income and poverty populations. We discussed our relationship with Feeding America, the national network with a reach of regional food bank touching every county in the U.S. As we moved through the discussion, the idea of what can they do and/or expect to see as doctors was shared as well. The ER is busy with lots of circumstances of people in poverty waiting too long to seek medical attention or running to the ER for every incident that may have been treatable through a family physician if they had the money to see one.

The group of 24 spent their time at our facility by taking a deeper dive into the poverty topic. After a tour, they got hands-on with helping us sort and package produce for distribution through the pantry system and other programs. We will also engaged them with a training exercise we offer to the community that asks them to pair with another student and navigate real life circumstances as a “family” in poverty could face. Another training exercise is more asset based and they will be asked to live for a month with limited resources. The last formal engagement with the students will provide them time to debrief about their experience through several presentations they will make to our team. Last year’s class spoke about how the information and hands-on experience gave them a better appreciation for the work we do, but also the life circumstances of a population that many of them will encounter professionally the rest of their working career.

As school is staring again, our rollout of new School Food Pantry Program continues. Between now and the end of 2017, we will have 14 more schools engaged in this relationship building program. The acceptance of this program has been very strong. Teachers are meeting and greeting the families they are now seeing on a regular basis. Schools who previously had parental interaction with parents in the single digits are now seeing hundreds of people on a regular basis. One school has been able to re-organize a parent- teacher organization with parents leading the way. Another school principal emailed me and said this program is the most positive thing he has experienced in 13 years as an administrator.

Community partners, both funders and volunteer groups, so far have signed on again or expanded their commitment for another year or have agreed to a multi-year commitment. The future development and expansion of this program is mapped out in a multi-year schedule with flexibility for new partnerships as they form. We will continue to engage communities in all 8 counties to consider investing in relationship building for the families and schools to positively impact the children as they move toward a sustainable future. Because we live here, we can address our community solutions by focusing on local relationships. It doesn’t require a bureaucratic national program. It requires local people to engage with other local people. This can be done whether you’re a doctor or a student.

Tim Kean is the President and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana. The Second Harvest Food Bank network of 115-member agencies and programs provides food assistance to more than 70,000 low-income people facing hunger in Blackford, Delaware, Grant, Henry, Jay, Madison, Randolph and Wabash Counties.

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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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We Have “Velcro” for Your School

strawhatI have an old straw hat that I wear when I mow the grass or work in the yard. Its wide brim is kind of bent up and not at all symmetrical. Inside the band is some elastic material that stretches as I put it on and it says “one size fits all”. I’ve had some odd looks from drivers as they go by, but maybe the hat had nothing to do with it. I’ve noticed I get those looks sometimes even if I am not wearing a hat, but that’s another story. I’m pretty sure that no artist of country music or farmer for that matter would be caught dead wearing a hat like this. I can’t say it feels that good when I wear it, but it keeps the sun out of my eyes and off my neck, so I wear it.

I recently bought a new baseball hat with an adjustable Velcro strip so it can be adjusted and it feels just right when I wear it. I think the person who invented Velcro is a genius. That little piece of material provides the end user with the ability to have a “custom” feel to their item of clothing and it is designed to keep the adjustment in place or let the owner adjust it as they see a need to change it.

I have had the pleasure over the last several months to meet face to face with many of principals and school superintendents in several of the counties we serve. We are discussing how we can partner them and other stakeholders in their neighborhood to engage parents of their students to come to school and participate in a meeting or activity with a food distribution component. This approach has been implemented in several schools and more are planned to begin in July, August and September.

One of the aspects about this program is the flexibility of it and the opportunity to “customize” it for each school depending on several factors.

It can be organized as often or as minimally as it needs to be to meet the school’s needs and those of the other stakeholders around the table. If area churches and/or businesses are partnering to provide funding and volunteers the frequency can be adjusted so it’s a great fit for everyone.

The principals are enthusiastic because they see the opportunity to connect with parents in a meaningful way with positive engagement to build relationships that will benefit all parties. When the school pantry food distributions occur, the parents can access a significant amount of food that will meet their needs for at least a week or more. This is a critical point because getting the right amount of food and the right kind of food to a family will have a significant impact in relieving the pressure many of them face if they had to rely on food pantries to make ends meet that week.

A visit to the average food pantry does not provide enough food to meet the family needs.

Many are faced with in inconvenience of traveling to other pantries open different days and times to try and cover the gap their resources can’t provide. Church food pantries resources are limited and have not been able to meet the need. There may be some who could still be very effective in outreach by moving from their current model to partnering with the neighborhood school along with other supporters to function with less burden and more impact for a family.
The average food insecure family of 4 has a gap of 28 pounds of food per week to meet their basic needs. Having access through your child’s school pantry to have a positive experience with their teacher and staff and walk out with having a critical basic need met is proving to be an emotional and impactful experience for many. Our post-distribution surveys are showing strong positive changes for the families and students.

Parental engagement in a child’s education can be a lifetime game-changer for a student pathway to self-sufficiency as an adult.

Food distribution can be a win-win-win for all parties to come together. We are continuing to seek out partnership opportunities with more schools and neighborhood stakeholders to begin this “custom fit” program with so many positives outcomes. Your school and the children who attend can benefit from this, so let’s get together and all do what each of us can.

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Happy Anniversary

anniversaryEach July we celebrate the anniversary of when we began as an organization. We have completed 33 years of operation and are starting our 34th year this month. We incorporated as an organization in 1983 and began as an affiliate of Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana. Our name at that time was the East Central Regional Indiana Food Bank. The organization came together through a group of Anderson residents who believed in the food banking concept when a program was operated from the Community Action program led by Jack Samuels. Although that early program faded out with the Community Action agency, city leaders led by Mayor Tom McMahan believed that food banking was a good solution to the problem of hunger in Madison County.

Hazel Minnefield was a member of the early board of directors of the food bank. From board member, she moved into a coordinator position, was trained at Gleaners Food Bank in Indianapolis as a Vista Volunteer and then was appointed Executive Director of the East Central Regional Indiana Food Bank, a position she held for five years. Her vision attracted the attention of the community which resulted in the development of the Food Bank as a regional food warehouse and distribution center with solid community funding, including that of the United Way of Delaware, Madison and Grant counties.

I joined the board of directors to complete the term of Judy C. Miller who was an associate of mine at Pay Less Super Markets. I became board chair in 1985 and served on the board again in the 90’s. Lois Rockhill became the Executive Director in 1989 with Hazels’ departure and served until 2012. She expanded the program reach and food distribution into all 8 counties that we serve. The funding base grew in the other counties as well. Lois was a tireless fundraiser. I joined the staff in 2005 and became the President & CEO in 2012. During that time we have seen our food distribution grow to a peak of just under 13 million pounds. Also over those years we have also instituted several initiatives to address food insecurity in targeted programs for children and seniors.

Our new strategic plan has positioned us for the future to address food insecurity with the vision of seeing the people of East Central Indiana free from hunger and self-sufficient.

Tasked with the mission of providing help for today by feeding the hungry and hope for tomorrow by addressing the causes of food insecurity while empowering people toward self-sufficiency, we are engaging all 8 counties in new ways with new programs and partners to be very targeted with our resources that you provide to us.

Thank you for your support over all these years that continues to enable us to provide help and hope to thousands of struggling families.

Have a great July!

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Breaking Down Our Strategic Plan

targetA binder full of research, thought provoking questions with a vision for the future and a mission to accomplish can be a big pill for anyone to swallow. We have got all that stuff and need to figure out how we will move it forward, not which part, but yes, the whole thing. The board with our staff have agreed on our goals and we will now engage our efforts toward realizing them. We have been meeting as a management team to reach some common understanding for a method that we will help us keep the plan active and central to our daily activities. This does 2 things, it helps us to stay focused on what we consider our core activities to be and it gives us permission to defer, change or stop what does not fit our core activities.

Our 5 goals are stated below in an abbreviated form.

  1. Identify geographic areas of greatest need
  2. Enhance and evaluate our current distribution model
  3. Develop a comprehensive resource development plan
  4. Engage and partner with individuals and organizations
  5. Improve awareness of our organization and its family of services

We have 4 management staff “point persons” who have taken on the individual leadership responsibility for each of the goals. They will be organizing other team members and non-staff to assist them in moving toward the achievement of each goal and we will be reporting the progress/status to the board each quarter.

One of the early efforts in moving the needle has been to prioritize our programming going forward. I have stated before, but will again say that Child Hunger Programming is our #1 priority going forward.

This is quickly taking shape in the form of School Food Pantries designed to get a significant percentage of parents into the school to receive food assistance and engage with the teachers and administration for the child’s educational benefit. This is really ramping up in several of our counties. Seniors and the Disabled are our #2 program priority. We are in conversation with some other agencies who can partner with us to bring this into a beginning reality very soon. Our #3 level of priority will be adults between 18 and 60 with no kids. This will probably look much like it does now with church food pantries and Tailgate Food Distributions but could be modified as we go forward.

As we continue to define our ideas to provide Help for Today and Hope for Tomorrow we will want many around the table with us.

There is room for everyone.

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Test Your Knowledge

Test your knowledge on food pantry activities and client behaviors (based on averages).

Question #1 – What percentage of clients come to a food pantry every time they are permitted?

Answer – Pantries report that between 2% and 10% of total clients they see are coming every time the pantry will allow them.

Question #2 – What is the average number of times that a client visits a food pantry in a year?

Answer – Pantries report that the average number of visits by a client are just over 3 times per year.

Question #3 – What is the average family size that visits a food pantry?

Answer – The average family size is 3 -4 people.

Question #4 – What percentage of people who are food insecure are employed and make too much money for any government assistance, but not enough to pay their bills?

Answer – In our 8 county service area, that percentage was 27% for 2015 (based on the Map the Meal Gap Study from Feeding America).

Question #5 – What percentage of clients report choosing between paying for food or medicine or health care?

Answer – 71%

Question #6 – What percentage of clients report choosing between to pay for food or utilities?

Answer – 68%

Question #7 – What percentage of households not participating in SNAP benefits (Food Stamps) are potentially income-eligible?

Answer – 54%

Question #8 – What is the ethnicity breakdown of the food insecure population?

Answer – 83% are White, 13% are African American

Question #9 – What percentage of the food insecure population report having more than a high school education?

Answer – 20% report having some college, 2 year degree, 4 year degree or higher

Question #10 – What percentage of client households include grandparents who have the responsibility for grandchildren who live with them?

Answer – 29%

If you got 6 or more questions correct, then you have some good insight into the circumstances of people who are struggling.

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Summer Plans a Chore for Many Families

roadtripWhen I consider all the items to check off the list to plan a summer vacation, it is daunting. So many questions and details! Do I stop the newspapers and mail or have someone pick it up? Do I let the yard grow or have someone else mow it? What about watering the flowers and plants? We can’t take our 2 big dogs, so do we board them, have someone come by and feed them, ask a relative to keep them? Would it be better to have someone house sit to handle all this or rely on a good neighbor? What about the perishable food we have, keep or toss or give it away? The special arrangements might not work out as planned and we could come home to a real mess. What about the expense of the trip? Are we sure we have budgeted the right amount?

The questions on making plans for the summer would be very different for me if I had been depending on the free and reduced lunch program and the breakfast program at school for my kids to eat.

I probably would not be stressing over the details of a paid vacation trip to a nice location with my family. I would be looking at the upcoming months of June and July with real dread, because I may have limited or no easy options to provide a meal, let alone 2 meals for kids who will probably be at home all day. Who will I get to watch my kids when I need to go to work? The neighbor, a relative? I can’t afford to pay someone. Are they old enough to stay by themselves yet? Can I trust them? I can’t wait for August so they can go back to school, but then the school fees can really push us further behind.

The summer food programs that more and more schools are beginning to offer can be a significant stress reliever to many families.

A meal is provided and some schools have implemented some programming along with it. Transportation can be a real barrier for the child to get to the food. The coordinated effort between Muncie community centers is making headway by getting kids transported to and from South Side Middle School. Other schools in several counties are coming up with versions of their own to address the stark reality of hunger for thousands of kids in each county we serve. We believe that the feeding program belongs in the schools and getting partners around the table who can assist with a piece of the action is the key. These summer feeding program food costs are reimbursed by the Indiana Department of Education to the schools if they register in the program.

There have been many attempts over the years to reach the kids who need this assistance, but it usually results in a few hundred kids when the need is in the thousands. We need to discuss ways to coordinate transportation and programming that will get the kids to the food and provide a meaningful, structured outlet when options at home are few to non-existent.

It makes me think about how I am going to care for my lawn while I’m away is nonsense.

 

Written by Tim Kean

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