As a kid I remember watching some great stories on TV where the townspeople were in trouble and just at what seemed like the last minute, the cavalry came riding over the hill to save the day! I heard a presenter at one of the meetings I attended a few years ago describe the dire circumstances of the community and ended his point by saying, “Guess what, the cavalry isn’t going to be riding over the hill to save us, we have to figure this out on our own”. That reality statement has kind of a Doctor Phil sound to it. But for me, I think it has some wisdom to chew on for many circumstances we wrestle with Second Harvest Food Bank and the community at large.
I have to recognize our Forward STEPS initiative, that works side-by-side with under-resourced families if they choose to participate and go the distance. That takes no cavalry, but empathy from the team and community members. It does require a commitment of about 18-36 months from the families who participate. The Youth Enrichment segment of this, which now number some 80 kids, is a game-changer for many kids as they continue through these relationships building experiences.
We also focus on family relationship building and youth educational advancement called The Big Idea. As part of our “shorten the line of need” strategy, this impacts families with school-age children to connect with school staff toward positive reinforcement of reading readiness and socialization. It also connects local community resource providers to these energized school events. We are now lining up people who will come and share their career path with the kids and families as well, by hopefully, planting some Big Ideas for these families to consider what their “future story” may be.
Our food distribution programs through Agency Partners, the Tailgate Distribution and Senior Safety Net initiatives are providing some short-term emergency or in some cases long-term chronic relief from food insecurity which is just one of the spokes of drudgery in the ugly wheel of poverty. We must continue to stretch our hands out to other social service providers and find ways of partnering, collaborating and yes, consider merger where it makes sense as the need for hitting the bulls eye increases and target shooting becomes a thing of the past. Imagine a few multi-service facilities in strategic locations around a city that are open afternoons and evenings multiple days per week in place of the patchwork quilt with many holes that we now have in all our 8-county service area. Smaller communities have embraced this for a long time out of necessity and connectedness. It should be more apparent in larger communities, but seems slow to materialize.
It’s time to “Get Real” as Doctor Phil might say. The struggling population seems to be “stubbornly stuck” even with gains in the economy. For various reasons, this population is struggling to become self-sufficient families. Some will always wrestle with this, but for many, it should be temporary or short term. I’ve never met someone who is struggling that likes it. I’ve also met many who have the same life experiences that I do, but have paid a heavier price because they have an entry level wage job. Everybody has a responsibility to step up and be part of the “solution”. That might be going back to school, stopping destructive behaviors, reading to our kids, mentoring someone, using the gifts of talent, time and treasure we have to make innovative ideas the new reality. We all know the cavalry isn’t showing up, so maybe we can identify and break through some self-imposed barriers which feel safe, but aren’t allowing the next steps we need to take.
Tim Kean is the President and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana. The Second Harvest Food Bank network of 95-member agencies, programs and 35 schools provide relationship building and food assistance to more than 65,000 low-income people facing daily instability in Blackford, Delaware, Grant, Henry, Jay, Madison, Randolph and Wabash Counties.
Historical Note: About a month after this, the National Guard showed up to provide ~50 bodies doing daily work in our warehouse or tailgates for the rest of the year. Sometimes the cavalry DOES show up.