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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Child Hunger Programs are Top Priority

appleAs we finished our Strategic Plan update in 2015, we challenged ourselves to examine what we have been doing programmatically for many years. We have been a provider of food to about 110 agencies in 8 counties. We also have a direct distribution to clients called the Tailgate Program that we execute in all 8 counties. Both of these are distributing food in a generalized sort of way by basically supplying food to whoever shows up. They both help struggling people but the question is could we be more targeted to “move the needle”?

We have decided to begin 2016 with a prioritization plan for our food resources and staff commitment. Our top priority going forward will be focused on Child Hunger Programs. We have some small but impactful programs with Child Hunger that we are ramping up substantially in 2016. Over the last year or two we have been engaged with Sutton Elementary in Muncie, St. Mary’s School in Anderson, Elwood Elementary in Elwood and Westlawn Elementary in Portland with distributing food to kids. We also partner with Turning Point –Food 4 Kids in Henry County and Reach Ministry – Food 4 Kids in Delaware County and First United Methodist in Anderson. As of a month ago we have been in dialogue with Southside Middle School in Muncie and have formed a partnership with the school staff and Fairlawn Church of Christ to operate a School Food Pantry in Southside.

We have been in dialogue with several school superintendents in Randolph, Delaware and Madison Counties to discuss forming partnerships with each school in the district. We also discussed jointly working to locate partners like churches, businesses or organizations who will engage in this effort with us and the neighborhood school to form a team that will make an impact on struggling families with children attending the school. There are some great examples of how this is working by significantly addressing the food insecurity needs of the family. Attendance has risen dramatically at the evening meetings where parents and staff come together for conferences on the student’s engagement and parental involvement.

By providing these food resources 12 months a year, the families can continue to see school engagement as a positive experience.

Getting a significant amount of food distributed at these meetings can eliminate the need for parents to have to visit several food pantries to try to meet the gap they are trying to cover. All of us are focused on making sure hunger is not an issue for these kids so they can have a greater chance for a successful year in school and over the summer as well.

Let us know if you would like to help. You can learn more about donating or volunteering by clicking “get involved” in the menu above.



Written by Tim Kean

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Hungry Children = Hungry Families

Ask any teacher in almost any school if children are coming to school hungry. It’s almost always a yes.

childstudying2Then they can go on to tell you lots of stories about the kids and conversations they have with them. Many times it leads to some deep-felt emotion that bubbles up in the teacher, and then they have to stop talking. Some have started some very impressive outreach efforts and have reached out to find support from a church or friends who want to make a difference. I always find what they are doing to be very inspirational. I along with many of you have worked face to face with struggling people, and even when my spirit is occasionally challenged with questions about that adult, when a child is in tow, the questions are melted away and all that remains is that child and their face. Teachers see the face of child hunger 5 days week.

Yes, free and reduced breakfasts and lunches help, but the gap the families are facing are wider than what these important programs can cover.

Data from Feeding America’s annual Map the Meal Gap report indicates that the average person struggling with food insecurity has a gap of about 7 pounds of food per person per week even after the free and reduced schools are taken into account. This means a family of 4 needs an additional 28 pounds of food per week. To try to cover that gap, the family will need to navigate through several food pantries open different days and times to try and find the resources. That is the current system.

It needs to change.

Teachers, Principals and Superintendents also have some challenges getting parental involvement in school organized meetings with staff and other parents. If you grew up and didn’t do well in school, you may have several vivid memories from your childhood that school was a place to be avoided and communication was always negative. Maybe your parents had the same experience and opinion. When you are notified by the school that they would like to meet with you, it might be natural to assume the worst and want to avoid what you consider to be a probable confrontation – so you don’t go. The last thing you need to add to your seemingly endless struggles is to hear that your child is not doing well. Visions of your past experience are now showing up in your child.

spaghettiOur organization is in the process of establishing food distributions to families with kids at the school after hours. This can be accomplished through community partnerships of area churches, businesses school staff members, and Second Harvest. This team approach doesn’t place a heavy burden for finances or volunteers on any single team member. This looks much more like an adoption of the school, and filling a role with several others to positively impact families with children in that school. This year-round, once or twice a month food distribution will bring families to school for a positive interaction, sharing information and enough resources that will probably meet the family’s needs for at least 2 weeks – and maybe longer. The positive school engagement will begin to build dialogue between parents and staff that leads to encouragement for the child and better performance, partially because the child’s family isn’t hungry.

We have success stories already up and operating. We need churches and businesses/organizations to be open to a conversation on how they may find a way to participate, not carry the burden by themselves. The idea of seeing an entire school with no hungry children is not beyond our reach. It is much more dependent on your will to make it reality.

Do you want to see all children free from hunger? Let us know if we can talk with you. We need to do this.

Email our Child Hunger Coordinator, Sarah Ponto Rivera at


Written by Tim Kean

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How Much Will This Cost Me

sinkWe came home from church and had no water pressure. The pump was running and was hot to the touch, so I pulled the breaker and shut it off. When you decide to live in a rural location, things like this pop up from time to time. The last time was a couple of years ago. Some small pebbles and some grit had plugged the impeller on the pump. With some acceptable aggravation and about $300, the pump was repaired and things were back to normal the same day. This time it may not be that simple. Last time there was some discussion about digging up the yard and needing to pull the lines to correct a possible faulty screen at the bottom of the water line in the well. That exercise would have been very expensive.

A few days before Christmas is not when unannounced repairs should show up. We had the same problem occur almost 40 years ago in another home – 2 days before Christmas. The entire system was replaced, from the well to the water heater. It took most of the next year for our family of six to recover from that surprise. Our food budget was $40 a week before the expense and probably a little less after it. You could get a few more groceries back then for $40 than you can now, but every dollar mattered. That was also about the point in our lives when I was buying and selling vehicles as fast as I could turn the titles to try and make a few extra bucks. I would buy a car for $400-$500, clean it up as best I could, and try to sell it for $600-$700. My family used to laugh whenever we pulled into their driveway because they wanted to see what I was driving each time. I had bought and sold some that they never had a chance to see, so it was a running joke in the family. If I could make $150-$200, that would put food on the table for a month. My point is, I had to be willing to do what I had to so things might change and circumstances might improve.

Unlike the old westerns, the cavalry wasn’t going to ride over the hill and save us.

Living from paycheck to paycheck or less is a reality for thousands of families in this county. You probably know people who are in this circumstance, or you may be one of those people. This cycle looks to have little hope in changing unless better job prospects through education and training come into play. After that happens, is relocation required to find that better more sustainable opportunity or is it here?

I believe most people are willing to help others who are trying to help themselves, but certainly more could be done by both parties. We are a very generous people, but also very spoiled. Living beyond our means has been an occasional pitfall for almost everyone, including me. When we won’t reduce our wants closer to our needs, the idea of helping someone else seems too far from our grasp. Likewise, when we work using one hand while the other is extended to ask for help, we might not need as much help if we used them both. Immediate assistance for immediate circumstances clearly must be met, even if prioritized like a triage unit. Longer term solutions must be developed for self-sustainability or the line to the triage unit will never get any shorter. I may need to find a longer term solution to my “plumbing” dilemma.


Written by Tim Kean

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Power Outages and Frozen Pipes

winterOur recent cold snap with high winds caused some significant power outages around East Central Indiana. You’re probably already aware of that. You may also know someone that was affected – or maybe it was you. We live on a county road in rural Madison County and it is fairly common that we lose power with high winds. Losing power with an all-electric home can cause some major disruptions if we aren’t careful. Loss of power means no heat, water and lights. It happened recently to us and luckily didn’t last but a few hours.

A couple of days later as the temperature dropped to single digits, we had a frozen water pipe. I managed to catch it quick enough to get some heat applied and avoid a big issue, but what happens when you’re not so lucky? A frozen water pipe undetected overnight can cause some serious damage and can be very costly, beyond the plumbing bill. If I had to call in to work last week and tell the supervisor that I wasn’t able to come in because I didn’t have power, they might understand. If I had called in sick for 2 days 2 weeks ago, they might understand. If I had a sick child 3 weeks ago and had to stay home for a day, they might understand that. So now my frozen water pipe dilemma could have some very serious long term impact on my ability to pay my bills unless I have again caught my supervisor in an understanding mood. All of these circumstances are real and probably out of my control, but this doesn’t always have a happy ending.

Many people who are struggling have multiple challenges they wrestle with just to get through a normal day.

Financial struggles many times mean transportation issues, health issues, child care issues and food insecurity issues. It can be like a spin on the roulette wheel to see if you can land on a safe number that day or your number just came up for some unexpected life event that causes a train derailment, taking months or years for recovery. There are many people who appear to be self-sufficient and living paycheck to paycheck. Everything is just ok, not great, and then the washer goes out, the car battery quits and someone in the house just got the flu. Next week the rent is due, and utilities are the week after that.

I’ve come from a long background in the for-profit world. Absentee employees make for a long day when labor is tight, and labor is always tight. How can we expect to meet the demands of the job when employees aren’t dependable? I’ve come to realize over the years that many of the things that get in the way for others also get in the way for me as well. I also know that the lower someone is on the economic totem pole, the more challenging a $75 repair can be. It’s hard to appreciate how something like air temperature and some short term gusting wind can be a potential life changing event for someone, unless you’ve been there.

I hope the temperatures might return back to being moderate for this time of year. It might be less expensive for a business and it will ease some real pressure being felt by average people trying to live without a train wreck around the next corner.


Written By Tim Kean

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Help for Today Hope for Tomorrow

We have finished our Strategic Plan for 2016 – 2019. Our board has set us on a course with an updated Vision Statement and Mission Statement.

The Vision Statement – Our vision is to see people in East Central Indiana free from hunger and self-sufficient.

The Mission Statement –Our Mission is to provide help for today by feeding the hungry and hope for tomorrow by addressing the causes of food insecurity and empowering people toward self-sufficiency.

This can be summarized as providing Help for Today and Hope for Tomorrow for our 8-county service area. Help for Today means that we need to continue to evaluate and sharpen our existing programs, and look at the creation of new programs and collaborations where there are gaps in the delivery of service. The distribution system we operate with has some inherent challenges. Dedicated groups of independent operators (food pantries) can bring much into this discussion as we examine national best practices across the Feeding America network. The idea of continuing to do things the same way and expecting different/better results as we consider what results we need will be interesting dialogue. The current model we use in food pantries and our Tailgate Distribution (mobile food pantry) is kind of a generalized approach. We provide food assistance through these programs to basically anyone who shows up at the distribution time. Both these approaches have been used for decades so we must ask ourselves, are we hitting the mark that we intend to hit? Can we use best practices to help us and our agency partners to come closer to a more impactful outcome?

Hope for Tomorrow will lead us to look at the root causes of food insecurity. We will need to collaborate with an extensive group of partners to “shorten the line” of those in need. Advocacy, education and facilitation of discussions and activities will all play a role in moving forward, but this is not enough. If we engage in empowering people toward self-sufficiency, we will need to line up some programmatic opportunities for struggling people to find their way out of the struggle. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to develop new programming, but look at opportunities to engage with others who are tackling this topic so together we can leverage assets and energy to be more impactful. Can we align so that 1+1 = 2 ½?

If we can make progress to “shorten the line” of need, won’t that relieve some pressure on challenges in help for today?

We have to aim at the bulls-eye, not the general vicinity of the target. Using a generalized approach of how we disperse all our resources will not move the needle. Fighting a battle on all fronts just exhausts everyone and depletes precious resources much too rapidly. We will consider some prioritization on how we go forward with programming. Our top priority for our programming will be addressing Childhood Hunger. Our second level of priority will be Seniors and The Disabled. Our third level will be Adults between 18 and 60 with no kids at home. Our new relationships/collaborations will get us closer to the vision of seeing people free from hunger and self-sufficient. There are approximately 75,000 people in 8 counties that need help for today and hope for tomorrow.

We are looking at 2016 with excitement. Join with us to make a difference in someone’s life.


Written by Tim Kean

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