By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Going hungry. It’s a stark fact of life for too many people in Madison County.
While that’s a somber thought, St. John’s Lutheran Church in Anderson found cause for celebration this week. The church’s food pantry served up its 3 millionth pound of food to help a family in need.
“A lot of people say this is the only way they make it through,” said Phil Sveum, who cheerfully oversees the operation two evenings each month. St. John’s distributes food to about 375 families each time, no questions asked.
Monday night, Sveum and his small army of volunteers gave out 32,248 pounds of food delivered through the pantry’s partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana. People went home with bags filled with 15 items, including produce, bakery items, meat and more.
“We need food,” said pantry recipient Sharon Goodson of Anderson. “We make just enough money to pay the bills. We rely on these food pantries.”
John and Emma Cain of Anderson have been coming to the food pantry for years.
“They do a good job,” said Emma. “It helps out a whole lot.”
At a time when she was low on funds, Denise Pace of Middletown said, “They helped out a lot.” Pace now shows up at the pantry as a regular volunteer.
“I like talking to all the people. It’s fun,” said Pace. “It just makes you feel good.”
Pace is one of about 50 volunteers in Sveum’s faithful crew, more than half of whom are not St. John’s members. They give over 300 hours of service each month. The teamwork is obvious and jovial under Sveum’s direction.
The volunteers at the St. John’s food pantry have been combating hunger since February 2005. That year they distributed 69,973 pounds of food to 1,289 families. By 2011, St. John’s was serving just shy of 600,000 pounds of food to 7,878 households.
“There’s more people now seeking food assistance than any time we have ever recorded,” said Tim Kean, president and CEO of Second Harvest. And the fastest growing population of clients they are seeing is people who have jobs, but just can’t make ends meet. Kean said that one-third of the more than 20,000-strong food insecure population in Madison County makes too much money to qualify for government benefits.
During 2012, Second Harvest distributed 12 million pounds of food to about 70,000 people in the eight-county area they serve. That represents $18 million worth of food. Out of that, 2 million pounds valued at about $3.5 million were distributed in Madison County where 17 percent of the population is food insecure. Within Madison County, St. John’s is Second Harvest’s biggest operator in terms of pounds.
Second Harvest relies on local donors, retail partnerships, and the Feeding America network which serves 202 food banks around the nation to stock the shelves of the 30,000 square foot warehouse in Muncie. Anderson was home to Second Harvest for 23 years, before it moved to Muncie in 2007.
“We’re still very much a local entity,” said Kean.
The staff of 19 employees also relies on volunteers to get the job done. In 2012, Second Harvest logged 23,000 hours of volunteer time, from truck drivers to distribution.
“That’s how it happens,” said Kean. “To distribute 12 million pounds, it takes a lot of hands.”
The average agency distributing Second Harvest food pays 7 cents a pound for the shared maintenance fee, with an upper limit of about 18 cents a pound. Even though the cost sounds low, fundraising remains key to meeting all the needs. Second Harvest must raise $1.8 million each year to keep its end of the operation going. And monetary donations are critical for St. John’s food pantry.
“We need support in order to continue it. We’ll always have it, but may have to do less,” said Sveum. “I hope we can get some contributions.”