Food distribution cancellations, warehousing closings, perishable inventory challenges and food donation levels are coming erratically. All are due to the record-pacing weather events in early 2014.
We have had to shift gears very quickly for several weeks and it looks like more is in our future for the next month. Some would argue that we may have needed to cancel more than we did, but you have to make a decision with the best information you have at the time.
Since these first few weeks have occurred as they have, we have taken some very intentional steps to define the weather conditions that will trigger future cancellations for outdoor food distributions. We are going to use wind chill as our guide. This is the first time we have had a defined standard to use as our guide. If the wind chill is predicted to be 0 degrees or below, we will cancel the event. I have worked outside when the wind chill is below 0, and it just represents too much risk for clients, volunteers and staff. Believe it or not, a wind chill of 10 degrees is still very cold, but you can dress for it and it is workable. Everyone can take exception to my last statement because how cold affects us individually is as different as there are people.
The snow is another story. We have outdoor locations in each county for our Tailgate Program, and in Muncie it may have snowed four inches, but in Wabash it may have snowed one inch. Plowing the parking lot we will be using for the distribution is probably the bigger issue. Roads may be OK to drive with caution, but a lot of problems occur with a snow-covered parking lot and cars trying to navigate through the snow without getting stuck. It is also next to impossible to move pallets of food through the snow or ice after they are off-loaded.
Our dedicated core of agencies that distribute food week in and week out are also challenged with providing delivery access to their buildings and getting the volunteers safely to the location to pass out the food. All that said, I think it is most difficult for struggling families who have to brave the cold and bad travel conditions to get to a pantry with limited hours of operation.
It isn’t quite the same as rushing to the grocery store and stocking up before the weather hits, as is the norm for most everyone else. They don’t control the amount of food they receive regardless of the weather. Most pantries don’t distribute enough food per family to cover the gap that is needed, so the client has to travel to another location probably on another day and time to try to meet their need.
Bad weather is difficult for everybody, but I’d rather have the resources to overcome it than have to face it without them.
Tim Kean is executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana. His column appears the third Sunday of each month. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.