by Tim Kean, President & CEO
Personal health, family health, co-worker, and public health continue to overshadow our thoughts, work activity, and lives. Whether it’s COVID, allergies, or the seasonal flu, we are bombarded with additional life challenges that haven’t let up for a year and a half. Goods and services are in short supply with much higher costs and few, if any, options to make alternative choices. We had topics 4-5 years ago that were very “hotly debated”. Now, we have topics that are so polarizing that you run the risk of being ostracized, ridiculed, or face possible physical combat if you breathe the wrong words in public. At Second Harvest, we don’t have the option to run away to some secluded spot in isolation until circumstances improve, so figuring out how to navigate forward is what we must do. As you know, we don’t do this work alone, we move forward in collaboration with many partners across our eight-county service area to provide Help for Today and Hope for Tomorrow.
Help for Today comes in many forms. Think of this as you would a fire fighter or any first responder. If your house is on fire, the first action is to put the fire out. If a family does not have food to eat tonight, the first action is to provide some food assistance. This emergency assistance comes through our network of 75 Agency Partners (church food pantries, soup kitchens, community centers, etc). Our Senior Safety Net initiative works with 16 senior housing sites and senior gathering centers. We have 6 Small Community Distribution sites that are geared for communities with less than 2,500 residents, many of which have very limited or no local resources to provide assistance for struggling families. We also are ramping up our Neighborhood Van initiative, currently available in Muncie, working with leaders of neighborhood associations, churches, or passionate volunteers who come to our warehouse and pick up a van load of food to distribute to their neighbors in need. The most public recognizable of all the Help for Today outreaches we have would be the Tailgate Distribution, using a semi-trailer load of food to assist hundreds of families in a large venue held mostly in the county seats across our region.
Hope for Tomorrow initiatives have been a significant focus for us since the topic was included as part of our strategic plan in 2015. During our board retreat, we determined that we must look at upstream causes and circumstances that impact a family. These can be barriers and stumbling blocks that move them into a short-term or long-term lifestyle of instability, lacking self-sufficiency and needing support and assistance to make ends meet. Making commitments and staying the course with follow through on lifestyle changes takes years to complete and may always be a work in progress. Ask someone who has quit smoking or drinking if there is ever a chance they may relapse. Sometimes bad relationships are what’s holding someone back or keeping them from stability. This can lead to a child or parent who cannot think past living through today or begin to think about their own future story. The Big Idea initiative, now in its 6th year, provides the opportunity for children and their parents to engage in relationship building with the child’s school staff. This continues to help facilitate positive conversation between parent, teacher, and student which leads to positive seeds being planted about what future the child could begin to imagine for themselves. Focusing on a goal for themselves through this relationship building at school can lead to a child becoming a self-sufficient adult, breaking the cycle of instability.
Our Forward STEPS initiative walks alongside families who are committed to make positive changes. This is done, in part, by the individual establishing SMART goals that lead to achievement and a pathway toward stability and self-sufficiency with the aid of some relationship accountability partners. Forward STEPS also has a well-developed Youth Initiative component that helps a child to set and achieve their own set of goals which can build self-esteem. Both The Big Idea and Forward STEPS are long-term strategies that begin where someone is and provide a pathway to bend the trajectory upward for life-long results. These are what can “shorten the line of need” and represent “fire prevention” that slows down the number of emergency fire runs we must make in the future. Help of Today and Hope for Tomorrow are two sides of the same coin that address today’s needs and tomorrow’s light in the tunnel.