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Holidays Mean Hunger For Some In Northeast Indiana

Credit Community Harvest Food Bank

Normally on NorthEATS Indiana, we report on the variety of restaurants, farms, and other food businesses in our region.

This week, we’re focusing on the lack of food. In Northeast Indiana, one in seven people don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

While some families are preparing to feast on turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing on Thanksgiving, there are others who aren’t sure how they will feed their family. Monique Johnson of the East Wayne Street Center says many families have to choose which basic need they can afford.

“You know, when you have to choose between keeping your water running and going out and buying food, that’s not a decision that anyone wants to have to make,” Johnson said. “So what we feel what we do here is providing a basic necessity.”

Johnson says one of the biggest misconceptions is the belief that people who go to food banks are on welfare. She says many of them have jobs, but don’t make enough to support their families.

“There are working people, some of whom are working full time at a job, who come to our food bank and just can’t make it,” she said.

According to Community Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Indiana, more than 90,000 individuals were served last fiscal year.

“That definitely pulls at your heartstrings in a job like this because you know when you can’t feed your family, that’s really the most basic of all needs, and no one should be--no one should be deprived of that privilege,” Johnson said.

I see worry, I see stress... A lot of people are coming in wondering how they're going to do it.

East Wayne Street Center operates a food bank in Fort Wayne. According to Johnson, more than 3,300 people were served in the center’s last fiscal year. She says she’s seen a rise in the need for food assistance since she started working at the center two and a half years ago. A lot of the people come to the food bank because they make less in entry-level jobs than when they were surviving on assistance, says Johnson.

“So now, you know, they’ve lost this, they’ve lost that, their food stamps have been reduced, and yet they’re not earning a wage that you can survive on,” she said.

As Thanksgiving approaches, Johnson says the East Wayne Street Center tries to give families items like mashed potatoes, a holiday meal staple. She says people want to gather with their families, but it’s hard when they can’t afford to put food on the table.

“I see worry, I see stress, you know, a lot of people are coming in wondering how they’re going to do it,” Johnson said. “You know, they’re very stressed about how they’re going to have their holiday meal and there again, it’s beyond the gifts or these extra things that are associated with the holiday. This is food.”

Carmen Griffith is the interim director of Community Harvest Food Bank, which distributes food to organizations throughout Northeast Indiana. She says last year, the combined groups distributed nearly 13 million pounds of food.

Griffith says many of the people who receive donations don’t want to be there.

“The biggest thing we always make sure of is, you know, we allow them their dignity,” Griffith said. “Because it’s not easy having to ask for help, and so the one thing we always want them to go away with is a good experience.”

One aspect of Community Harvest is the Community Cupboard. On the average day, 40 to 70 families visit the Community Cupboard to receive donations. Griffith says during the holiday season, that number increases to up to 120 families every day. 

She says Community Harvest receives the most donations from September through December, but they need them throughout the year.

Johnson, from East Wayne Street, agrees.

“I would say fall is a better time,” Johnson said. “I don’t know that I really want to go as far to say that any is a good time because, I tell you, as much food as we get in, we give out. It’s not a save it ‘til later kind of thing, it’s a, how can we serve as many people?”

Organizations like Community Harvest and East Wayne Street are lean operations. In addition to the donations they receive, they also rely heavily on volunteers.

“Last year--this is how dependent we are on volunteers--we saw over 10,000 volunteers,” Griffith said.

East Wayne Street Center says more people usually receive donations around the holidays, and Johnson expects this year to be the same.

Community Harvest partners with 480 agencies in Northeast Indiana. To donate, volunteer or receive donations, you can visit their website.