As featured in the Times of Northwest Indiana.
The Northwest Indiana Food Bank wants to feed the hungry, but it’s being held back by lack of space.
The food bank distributed 5.2 million pounds of food last year to the 98 food pantries it serves in Lake and Porter counties and through other programs, including Senior Pac, Pantry on the Go and school backpack programs.
That’s roughly equivalent to 4.5 million meals for 412,402 individuals in 145,464 households.
While that seems like a lot, it’s not enough to meet all the need in the region.
The food bank’s goal is to distribute 6.3 million pounds a year. The agency’s facilities are holding it back.
“We do a good job of getting the food in and out within a few days, but our capacity is not big enough,” said food bank Deputy Director Steve Beekman.
The agency is using a converted barn without loading docks.
“It’s inefficient and not benefitting us at all. With the proper facilities, we could handle so much more to meet the need,” Beekman said.
Frequently, the agency has to turn away food donations simply because it doesn’t have the immediate space to handle the storage.
The agency is conducting a feasibility study to determine its needs. But clearly it needs more square footage, a loading dock and more freezer space.
Unloading a truck without a dock is far more time-consuming. Beekman knows this from experience; he had to help unload an unexpected truck after the normal crew left for the day, and it took hours to do so.
On the wish list is a facility for training volunteers and for teaching clients how to prepare food so it will go further and, ultimately, so the clients can become chefs, drivers or serve the food service industry in other ways.
“People want to be self-sufficient rather than just getting free food,” Beekman said.
This is a goal the community should be able to get behind.
The agency needs appropriate facilities to serve its clients more efficiently — including adequate freezer space and a dock — but it also needs to find ways to operate more efficiently and to reduce demand in the future.
How to help
To donate food, money or time to the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana, visit foodbanknwi.org or call (219) 980-1777.