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Community Initiative Weathers Pandemic

How do you maintain a community when people can’t meet in person? That was the challenge faced by the members of the Forward S.T.E.P.S. initiative of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana. Forward S.T.E.P.S. (Support, Transforming, Empowerment, Pathways to Sustainability) is a community focused, relationship-based empowerment initiative that works alongside families on their journey towards long-term stability through skill and resource development. Used to weekly meetings including dinner, intensive trainings to foster relationships, and youth enrichment programs, the lockdowns created by COVID-19 meant the community had to evolve with the times.

“Isolation is the thing that Forward S.T.E.P.S. is helping to remedy,” said Dorica Watson, Community Engagement Manger at Second Harvest and recent ATHENA award winner. “We have many families who have been traumatized, or retraumatized, by COVID-19.” In order to maintain the relationships built up over the last fifteen years since its inception, meetings have shifted to twice-weekly Zoom meetings, plus Saturday activities for children.

A silver lining came in the form of the Forward S.T.E.P.S. parade. In late April, a large group of cars, decorated with dollar store delight, drove all around Muncie to wave out of windows and make sure people still got to see friendly faces from their porches. “Some of our families were not prepared to become home-school teachers all of a sudden,” said Watson “So we passed out tools that were useful for that. It was a huge morale booster.”

Tom, a newcomer as of last winter, shared how this reminded him of the importance of community. He broke his leg and was non-weight-bearing during the height of the pandemic, but because of Forward S.T.E.P.S. he had people to help – someone to pick up medicine, someone to grab groceries, someone to provide company at a distance.

Forward S.T.E.P.S. continues the tradition of Building Box night, a bimonthly food distribution that creates a cushion for the families who are increasing their income and therefore transitioning off food stamps by stocking their pantries and freezers. 

“We were prepared for a crisis like COVID-19, because we learn to prepare for loss of resources,” says Stacy Britton, Second Harvest’s Resource Development Coach. “The skills we teach, like budgeting or community reciprocity, allow someone to weather sudden lifestyle changes.” 

As the world starts to open up again, Second Harvest leadership is weighing options for moving towards a new normal while keeping community and tradition alive. Normally at this time, everyone would be working together towards a community garden. Now, the gardens are personal, grown at home, but with Zoom sessions where everyone still plants together. While it’s easy to grow apart during quarantine, Forward S.T.E.P.S. shows that it is possible to continue to grow together by doing life together.

To learn more about Second Harvest Food Bank’s ongoing efforts to build up communities in East Central Indiana, or to support us in these efforts, please visit curehunger.org. Until the end of August, our community partners are matching donations – give now to double your impact and help us reach our goal of $100,000!