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.