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Food Desert Map can change

A recent article in the Star Press talked about the “food desert” that exists on the Northeast side of Muncie. The compelling story described the circumstances of residents looking for food access and the distance they needed to travel to find it. This is a real circumstance for residents who live on the Northeast side, but also the Southeast side and the Southwest side of Muncie as well. Through the efforts of Brandon Longenberger, a Ball State Summer Intern for Second Harvest and Samantha Martin, our Director of Programs, we now have mapping that identifies “food deserts” of Muncie, Delaware County and all other 7 counties that we serve using poverty census data and food access points of either grocery stores or current food pantries. We have been sharing this information for a few months with several community leaders and it has generated very fruitful conversations.

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Seeing the picture of food insecurity in these food deserts begs the question, what are we going to do about it? I say we, because it will require action from several interested individuals and organizations. One of the first steps is to see a group of churches who reside in the food desert area who will come together and form a leadership team, who are committed to opening a food pantry in the neighborhood. This idea relieves the burden of the entire operation being staffed, housed and financially supported by one church. As changes in leadership, interest and resources occur over time within a church, the mission of feeding hungry neighbors can begin to fade or even disappear, with new initiatives taking priority. The sustainability of multi-church operations can absorb adjustments and grow beyond providing temporary supplemental food. With a pool of talent and direction, the group can engage the neighborhood for input into what the neighborhood sees additional programming needs may be to enable people to begin to lift themselves out of the circumstances they are facing. Partner organizations can then be engaged to come along side and help address some of these needs without adding to the load that the leadership is carrying. There are some great examples of groups of churches working together in other communities like Alexandria and Winchester that support 1 pantry and have done so successfully for years.

We are working with a model that shows if 8 churches pooled $50 a week and distributed 40 pounds of food to 150 people a week, they would operate the largest food pantry in Delaware County.

The location would be determined by the leadership team of churches. Here is where some community partnerships can come into play. Locating the pantry in an empty existing building somewhere close to the neighborhood would be the target. Hopefully, the building would have at least 25 parking spaces or enough parking for serving 100 people a day. It may take a building owner who would like a charitable donation deduction to make this work, but there are lots of locations that seem to be candidates out there at the moment.

This concept has a multi-year phased-in approach with the development of what has been termed as a “Hunger Free Zone”. On the program side, there is the element of a community garden, training needs identified by the residents, potential for a micro-loan program, a periodic schedule for a food truck loaded with food people can buy just to name a few. As the operation continues to attract more support and with greater access to food, a “store front’ concept could be introduced offering a limited assortment of high demand items priced on par with the area market low cost providers. With this added dimension there is potential for some job creation in the operation.

Food deserts only exist because we allow them by standing on the sidelines waiting for someone to do something. The map for 2016 can look different if we start now.

Written by Tim Kean

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