Every morning, the “cut-up” crew at Second Helpings chops and dices enough fresh produce to ensure that the more than 4,000 meals distributed daily by the organization are balanced and nutritious. “We do more scratch cooking here than many restaurants in Indianapolis,” says Jennifer Vigran, chief executive officer.
Second Helpings is part of a complex network of hunger-relief agencies working to reduce the number of food-insecure Hoosiers. “There isn’t any magic bullet for eradicating hunger in Indiana,” explains Vigran. “This is an effort that requires a community-wide focus. No single group has all the answers or can address all the needs.” And the needs are enormous.
According to Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, the proportion of hungry Hoosiers has risen to almost 15 percent in 2016, which is 2 percent higher than the national average.
Among the troubling trends: “The senior citizen population that we serve is growing,” says John Elliott, president and chief executive officer of Gleaners. “Some seniors didn’t recover from the 2008 economic downturn. Another reason is the increase in the number of grandparents who are raising grandchildren, often on fixed incomes.”
Two Endowment grants – $7.5 million to Second Helpings and $10 million to Gleaners – will help the agencies build financial sustainability, establish permanent endowments and strengthen their fundraising efforts. In addition, Second Helpings will upgrade its fleet of food recovery and delivery vehicles so it can continue to transport prepared meals to organizations across the city. The grants will not reduce the need for public support, but they will add a degree of security during challenging times. “As a nonprofit organization we’re subject to the same financial cycles as the rest of the economy,” says Vigran. “Unfortunately, when money gets tight, more people come to us for help.”
Efforts to conserve funds and simultaneously address the alarming rise in childhood obesity and diabetes have led to key partnerships with retail grocery stores. Perishable donation programs are adding fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood and dairy to the mix of available foods. “More recently we’re seeing farmers commit a share of their crop to hunger-relief efforts,” says Elliott, whose agency has set a goal of almost doubling the volume of fresh produce it distributes.
The bulk of Gleaners food goes to pantries and other nonprofit organizations making food available to people in need. As a partner agency of Gleaners, Second Helpings receives regular deliveries of food. It also rescues food through cooperation with grocers, restaurants and caterers. In 2016, Second Helpings turned that food into more than one million prepared meals and delivered them to 85 social service agencies – including several organizations that received major financial sustainability grants. And Second Helpings leverages its relationships with chefs and other restaurant and catering professionals across the city to run a training program that helps individuals prepare for and land jobs in the culinary industry. “We work with students on cooking skills, life skills and employability skills,” says Vigran. “We also have a job-placement component.”
Both Second Helpings and Gleaners are part of Indy Hunger Network, a coalition of anti-hunger organizations dedicated to creating a system that is efficient and effective. “We each have our niche,” says Vigran. “Everybody plays a really important role, and with that, any competition fades away and turns into collaboration and cooperation.”
Support to establish an endowment; strengthen fundraising and upgrade technology and other equipment
Support to establish an endowment, strengthen fundraising and upgrade technology and other equipment