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Purdue Extension: Caring for our communities

M

ilk, meat, fresh cheese, vegetables, fruit and more packaged into a single box are helping Indiana families survive job loss, higher food prices and other pandemic-related events affecting food availability.

As part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) collaborated with distributors to package and transport fresh produce, dairy and meat products to food banks, community and faith-based organizations. The Farmers to Families Food Box program, has now delivered over 157 million food boxes, including over 200,000 boxes in Indiana with the help of Purdue Extension educators.

The Society of St. Andrew (SoSA), a Purdue Extension partner in more than 30 counties, helped facilitate the program. According to SoSA numbers, Extension has helped distribute over 2 million pounds of food boxes since the fall of 2020.

Food boxes with a combination of meat, produce and dairy items
The Farmers to Families Food Boxes are a combination of meat, produce and dairy items weighing about 31 pounds each. SoSA said food can be valued at $1.40/pound.

 

East Central Indiana Efforts

In Blackford, Delaware, Jay, Madison and Randolph counties, Lindsey Cox, nutrition education program community wellness coordinator at Purdue Extension - Delaware County and Chelsie Jaramillo, nutrition education program community wellness coordinator at Purdue Extension – Madison County, worked with the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program.

“Muncie, Delaware County and surrounding counties have many areas that qualify as food deserts. Many community members qualify as low income and have low access to healthy foods, as well as low access to transportation. Most surrounding schools have at least 50% or higher free and reduced lunch status,” explained Cox. “COVID-19 greatly affected our local communities, especially in regards to food availability and higher food prices.”

truck for delivering boxes of food to help to serve local community

During an Indiana Food Scrap Initiative zoom meeting last September, Cox, Jaramillo and local partner Loretta Parsons from Soup Kitchen of Muncie connected with SoSA. After learning about the rules of the program, selecting host sites, contacting suppliers and connecting with area organizations to promote the program, they began distribution in September 2020.

“At distribution days in East Central Indiana, local service organizations line up in their vehicles to load boxes. A volunteer with a donated forklift unloads the pallets from the semi. Some organizations have trucks that can haul entire pallets - typically 45-56 boxes each, while some organizations need to load individual boxes to fit into their vehicles,” added Cox.

“This collaboration has crossed county lines, program areas of Extension, and within our local communities and among our local service organizations. Logistics were challenging for the first couple weeks, but it was heartwarming to see organizations come together and help each other out to serve our local community,” said Cox.

People getting box of food from truck boxes of food stack ready for delivering

Over 36 area food banks, faith-based, community and family organizations, and many volunteers joined to distribute food to those in need in this region.

“I think we all are glad to get to know each other and work together. Besides this effort, it will be great to see how these relationships spur projects together after the effects of COVID-19,” said Cheri and Ron Willis from Morning Star Church pantry.

“It has been inspiring to see how everyone works together and shares the boxes so there are enough to be distributed among the different service organizations. Some groups will pick up boxes and deliver to other organizations and share cold storage space. The new relationships built and the existing relationships strengthened have been one of the best parts of this initiative – and of course, getting food to our neighbors!” replied Cox.

Since September, Purdue Extension and community partners in Madison, Delaware, Randolph, Jay and Blackford counties have distributed 31,105 boxes weighing approximately 964,255 pounds with a value of $1,349,957, serving more than 27,000 individuals.

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