Austin Ockomon

We Are Ready To Take The Next Step                       

My granddaughter is ready for a bigger bike. She lost her training wheels about a month ago. I told her a couple of weeks ago that we would go get a new bike very soon.  I’m looking forward to seeing her ride that new one, but am anxious about when the inevitable will happen, that first crash. I don’t really care that the bike might be scratched, that will continue to happen as long as she has it. I’m more anxious about her hesitancy to get up and get back on the bike. That’s a big life lesson. As you know, we all continue to learn that lesson throughout the rest of life in one way or another. I look at her accomplishment as kind of a milestone as she transitions from what was comfortable, to what is new and exciting, maybe a little scary, but time for the next step to be taken. She will continue to grow and the need to make these milestone changes will continue. Isn’t that true for the rest of us as well?

We are finishing up our new Strategic Plan for 2019 – 2021. It should be ready by the end of July. We will probably activate it in August because we’re ready to embrace it and move forward. Strategic Plans are somewhat of a milestone activity. It’s good to re-examine what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. It also is good to move into a possible new aspect of the mission or to add more depth and breadth to what we’re committed to with programs and initiatives. It may seem to have a scary side, but that probably has more to do with reaching beyond our current grasp to lean into the future of what we’re striving to achieve. We certainly don’t work in isolation, we do this with the help of thousands of community members that cover 8 counties who continue to place value in this mission. I think that demonstrates the genuine concern that exists for struggling families that make up a significant portion of the population. A recent training I attended shared that 78% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Also, that over 50% of Americans can’t find $500 to meet a crisis. If you find that startling, it shouldn’t be. We are actually doing better on many struggle points than in recent years, so there’s reason to be optimistic.

I am excited to be part of this great work. I think the work we do and through many other people is noble. Gathering resources (food) that would be lost to the local landfills across the country and getting it re-purposed into beneficial supplements to ease the pressure of an economic crossroads crisis is impacting tens of thousands of families in our 8 counties, if only with some short-term relief. Who benefits if we allow it to be dumped in our landfill?

We in essence are helping to cultivate relationships that are changing lives through our Forward S.T.E.P.S. initiative and our School Pantry Program. Hearing someone witness to the impact that these programs have had on their lives and the lives of their children is motivational to say the least. If an employer has recognized a difference in an employee that has resulted in a raise, promotion or just some recognition to boost that employee’s morale we can celebrate the work and encourage the journey to continue. When children are demonstrating positive behavior and are engaging more in the classroom we can celebrate the work. These results are from relationship building. Many of our community partners help us facilitate these building blocks that are foundational to sustainable change, one family at a time. That may not sound like much unless you’re one of the families. We have a great staff team that take their role seriously because lives of people are being affected. We celebrate the work, just not often enough, and invite you to join us for the role you feel called to fill. Together, we can see this community take the next step.

 

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, programs and 22 schools provide food assistance and self-sustainability skills to more than 68,000 low-income people facing hunger in Blackford, Delaware, Grant, Henry, Jay, Madison, Randolph and Wabash Counties.

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Food Insecurity Continues to Drop

Map the Meal Gap is an annual study released by Feeding America to identify food insecurity by county across the country. This study is funded by The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, (son of Warren Buffett), Conagra Brands Foundation and Nielson. The 2018 data has just been released and continues to show a decrease from the previous year, a trend reflected since 2012. In our 8 county region the number of individuals is now 67,960 which is a 3.2% drop from 2017 and a 15.7% drop since 2012 when the number was 80,620. The number of food insecure children dropped as well for 2018 to 19,580 and is a 6.4% drop from 2017 and a 28.2% drop since 2011 when the number was 27,290. This is a positive sign for sure with many contributing factors. If families are able to find living wage employment, then maybe we can see this trend continue.

The county level data for food insecurity has some variation with Delaware County being the highest at 16.9% for all people and Wabash County, the lowest at 12.1%. The data for children has Grant County the highest at 21.9% and Blackford County the least at 18.1%. So with roughly 1 in 6 people and 1 in 5 children struggling on a regular basis so there is still much work to be done.

The common “knee-jerk” reaction to this has typically been for Congress to set their sights on cutting SNAP benefits. This is a hot topic right now as the House version of the Farm Bill that is being crafted as we speak. If the proposed cuts are passed to pay for the recent tax cuts, the impact would affect millions of families who are still in need of the benefit to feed their families on a weekly basis. This program assists families who are elderly, disabled, unemployed, unemployable or who are working but fall under the wage ceiling for the benefits. What is needed is for Congress to change the program to eliminate the “cliff effect” for families. The “cliff effect” is when a family has been receiving SNAP benefits and by getting a small incremental wage increase, which is less than the benefit they have been receiving is then having that benefit completely removed, which puts them in a worse financial position then prior to receiving the wage increase. It has the same impact of getting a raise of $40 more per month that puts you over the earning limit by $10, getting dropped from the program and losing $120 a month in the benefit. A stair step approach to the reduction of the benefit to avoid the “cliff effect” doesn’t seem too difficult a concept to understand, but so far no one in Congress seems to have figured that out. I don’t envy Congress, it must be difficult to develop a positive pathway for struggling families, if that may not get you re-elected. The “cut off” of the current program does not provide struggling families the incentive to progress and become more self-sufficient. SNAP benefits are the most cost efficient way to assist a struggling family. It is way more cost efficient than providing assistance through a food pantry, soup kitchen or a food bank. “The Feeding America nationwide network of food banks works hard to deliver more than 4 billion meals annually to people facing hunger, yet the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) serves 12 meals for every one meal provided through our network,” said Matt Knott, president of Feeding America.

 

 

 

 

Additionally the new report shows, 25% of East Central Indiana residents who are food insecure make too much money to qualify for SNAP but don’t earn enough to meet their monthly living expenses. ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) families are caught between a rock and a hard place regardless of what happens with SNAP. We’re excited about a downward trend with food insecurity, but much is left to do with families to walk with them toward self-sufficiency.

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, programs and 22 schools provide food assistance and self-sustainability skills to more than 67,000 low-income people facing hunger in Blackford, Delaware, Grant, Henry, Jay, Madison, Randolph and Wabash Counties.

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Nutritious Foods Can Feed Your Mind

We have moved from simply distributing food (which is far from simple) to working with people in a holistic way. We are constantly engaged in getting food into our warehouse and out to 115 agencies and 22 schools in 8 counties providing “Help for Today”. We are also engaged daily in assisting families with soft skill development, community barriers, financial literacy, cliff effect, budgeting, youth leadership, youth self-sufficiency skills, relationship building with teachers and smart goal setting (Hope for Tomorrow). This combination of immediate and forward future is what we believe will shorten the line of need. It’s more difficult to discuss goal setting when your belly is growling.

Last month this article was focused on asking for your feedback because we love to hear what you think. It provides a great opportunity for meaningful dialogue and clarity on topics that are multifaceted and have some spider web-like characteristics. I did have someone reach out to me and express a few viewpoints on nutritional food versus something less nutritional and our responsibility in that picture. I agree wholeheartedly that we should offer food with high nutritional value to people who are struggling. I also know that because we gather and distribute mostly donated food we cannot control the type of food a company wants/needs to donate.

We are extremely fortunate that we have a very high percentage of fresh produce to offer families. Of the 28 categories of products we handle, fresh produce has been the largest for many years. In 2017, over 30% of all our distribution was fresh produce (over 2.3 million pounds). This year it is currently over 33%. It’s also good to keep in mind that distributing a loaf of bread that has a date on the package of 2 days ago does not make the bread a bad product. We operate our inventory control from guidelines provided from the USDA and Cornell University in a book called the Food Keeper. Did you know that when stored under proper refrigeration that milk can be kept for a week past the date on the carton? Ketchup can be kept 6 months under refrigeration after being opened and mustard is 12 months. In dry storage (your pantry), canned carrots, corn or peas are up to 5 years. Thankfully or not, our inventory turns much faster than reaching any of these limits.

The bottom line is that we are not attempting to provide complete meal components, but are focused on sharing supplemental items as they are available to help offset food expenses and we place a heavy emphasis on nutritious fresh food. We also think it is totally acceptable to ask people to sort or trim fresh products that they receive. Distributing 5 pounds of something and asking the end user to sort it to have 4 useable pounds is part of getting the resource distributed with the bare minimum of cost involved. The end user actually pays nothing for the products, but does have an investment of time and transportation. We nor our agency partners should be considered a grocery store, but more of a gleaning operation to use what is still useable that others have discarded.

The Hope for Tomorrow is to connect people with resources, tools and skills that they in turn utilize toward building a self-sustaining path in life. We believe it can and should start with children, families and schools. Our focus must also continue to work with the individual family unit by walking with them as they identify smart goals that are unique to them assisted by intentional accountability partners. We have defined that aspect of our focus as Forward STEPS. As part of Hope for Tomorrow, this initiative has the tools and accountability for a highly-motivated family to break the cycle of poverty and shorten the line of need, which is what we all want to see.

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, programs and 22 schools provide food assistance and self-sustainability skills 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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Tell Us What You Think

We are as heavily involved in gathering information right now as we normally are in gathering food. We are about mid-way through the mammoth project of the 2018 Hunger Study. This is a deep look at the circumstances of families who are in need of many kinds of assistance. This has been a national study coordinated by Feeding America every four years for a very long time. We are able to glean information so we can better understand the issues and potential impact of efforts we may engage in the future. The project started in the fall of 2017 by surveying the agencies we supply in all eight counties to get their input and prospective for present and future activities they partner with us to accomplish. The fall project was spearheaded for us through the Ball State University Sociology Department under the guidance of Lisa Pellerin, PhD, Director, Women’s & Gender Studies. Dr. Pellerin and her team gathered the data and formatted it into a useable report back to us. The next step in this lengthy process, again through the BSU Sociology Department, is being led by Melinda Messineo, PhD, Interim Associate Provost for Diversity and Director of the Office of Institutional Diversity and her team. Dr. Messineo’s team will be surveying families at the agencies we work with to help provide valuable insights into the challenges and decision making these families face on a daily basis. We are planning to have the final report available for our use by fall of 2018 with, for the first time, county specific data from all eight counties.  This information has proven to be very useful in grant writing and community conversations.

We have also been gathering feedback through surveys from staff, interested individuals and organizations. We have reached out to all the counties we serve to help us gather opinions about our organization that will be very useful as we prepare to engage in our board/staff retreat. This retreat will lead us to Strategic Clarity 2019 -2021. Our vision, mission, purpose, goals and objectives will be refreshed from our current plan that began in 2016. We have made a strong commitment to keep our plan in front of us and not sitting on a shelf. I feel it has paid huge dividends in the community response and outcomes of our programming.

We are surveying over 2,000 families who are participating in our School Pantry Program. We are getting their input every six months about the programs impact for them and their children. They are providing great feedback that we are using to help guide this relationship building based program. Getting the first-hand view point from teachers, administrators and parents on an ongoing basis will enable us to work with the specific school resources and limitations to keep this long-term focused program on point.

An on-going listening tour with our investors is part of our focus as well. Yes, we do love to meet with our investors and provide an opportunity for them to ask questions and share viewpoints with us. The focus of the meeting is to share and learn. We sometimes learn that we must do a better job of communicating the ways that they can engage with us. Investors are a great source of information to expand and inform our views on public perception of this work.  We are engaged in conversations with other community stakeholders such as food councils, food summits, Community Organizations Active in Disasters (COAD), neighborhood associations, community outreach initiatives and through Q&A sessions after presenting at local, regional meetings and as guest presenter in several university classes in varying areas of study.

 

You help us to in many ways just by letting us know what you think. You can reach us through our website at curehunger.org, on Facebook, Twitter or email at foodbank@curehunger.org.

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, programs and 22 schools provide 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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