Small Communities Food Distribution is the next step for us in addressing rural poverty and food insecurity. We are organizing plans for food distributions in communities with populations less than 2,500.

There are a huge number of communities throughout all eight counties we serve that are very light on local resources to significantly assist families struggling in many areas. We can’t address many of the needs, but with assistance from a church or volunteer organization, we can impact the food insecurity level, if for a brief amount of time.

These food distributions are not designed to impact thousands of people like the tailgate distributions we offer in all the county seats, but are much more localized to impact residents living in these small towns.

Our plan is not even to promote when or where they are, but to rely on local small-town word of mouth to drive awareness. We are using our refrigerated box trucks, not our semi-tractor trailers, to get the food to families. These smaller trucks are capable of providing a substantial impact in food supply for probably 200 families. We will still provide the same type of food we distribute in our other programming, which is a lot of perishables, primarily fresh produce and other items like dairy and protein when available.

We have witnessed in our larger communities the decline in number of grocery store options over several decades. There are still several choices, although many require a significant drive or public transportation, if available. In the small community, there may be one or two with limited variety or no option. The decision for a family may be, “When can we afford to drive 20 minutes to the closest big store option and what can we do without until we go or how can I feed my family from the local limited variety convenience store?”

This can put a lot of pressure on making healthy choices versus gas money.

Another very helpful aspect of these small community distributions is they don’t require as many volunteers and don’t take as long to complete as the large tailgate distributions do. We have partnered with three and four volunteers and have been finished in 90 minutes while providing food assistance to 60-100 families.

Traffic issues are not as prevalent in the smaller communities due to the minimal numbers of cars or people who will walk to the site. County-seat venues have hundreds of cars gathering at one time and traffic flow has to be managed — similar to attending a concert at a major venue. We know the need is as great as in the larger communities, but there seems to be less anxiety and frustration from people waiting or receiving the food in the smaller locations.

Chances are, in a small community you probably know everyone who is there to receive food versus many strangers at the large locations. But even knowing your neighbors can still make receiving assistance uncomfortable. Sometimes anonymity is a blessing.

The challenge for us is making the connections and reaching the sheer number of small communities that need this assistance. We need a wider network of interested people who could help us to locate or introduce us to a potential partner in these small towns.

If you are connected with a church, local organization or someone we should contact, please reach out to Sunni Matters, our director of impact, at [email protected] You could also call her at 765-287-8698 ext. 116. Thank you!

Tim Kean is the president and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana. His column is published the third Saturday of each month in The Herald Bulletin.

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