Food banks try to stock more fruits and vegetables

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

The St. Vincent de Paul Society’s food pantry on East 30th Street houses a free health clinic, where clients with high blood pressure are told to cut their sodium consumption.

Those same clients then push their shopping carts past bins of salt-laden canned food and crackers.

The conflicting messages aren’t lost on Pat Jerrell, president of the society’s Indianapolis council.

“We know it’s something we need to work on,” he said.

St. Vincent de Paul, which operates the largest food pantry in the state, is one of many hunger-relief charities trying to get their hands on more fresh produce. It’s not an easy task. Second-rate and leftover fruit and vegetables abound, but the distribution network is fragmented.

When supermarkets reject entire truckloads, it’s up to the drivers, who are independent contractors, to empty their cargo at a food bank, rather than a dump. Supermarkets dispose of meat, dairy and produce nearing expiration dates. Only within the past 12 months have they begun allowing food banks to rescue food.

Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana is the main supplier for pantries in 21 central Indiana counties. Until the past year, produce was not a major emphasis of its distribution. Of the 15.9 million pounds of food distributed in 2008, about 1.3 million pounds, or 8 percent, was produce.

CEO Pamela Altmeyer-Alvey said a new relationship with Kroger helped increase the amount of produce 109 percent, to 2.4 million pounds, in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30.

“We’ve been able to step up the quantity,” Altmeyer-Alvey said.


Gleaners is part of the Chicago-based network Feeding America, which has set up shelf-rescue programs with several major grocery chains, including Kroger and Wal-Mart. Altmeyer-Alvey said Kroger has also helped redirect more rejected truckloads of produce to the food bank.

Second Helpings, a local organization that specializes in perishable food, also benefits from Kroger’s shelf-rescue program.

Gleaners is still looking for new sources. One possibility is growing food on city park land, an idea floated by Indy Parks Director Stuart Lowry.

While Gleaners wants to make better-quality food available, it’s struggling just to maintain its overall volume of all donated food.

“Manufacturers are getting more efficient and wringing every penny out of what they’ve produced,” Altmeyer-Alvey said.

Dollar stores are also competing with food banks for second-rate packaged foods. As a result, Feeding America reports that donations of “unsalables” have decreased 7 percent in each of the past eight years.

Produce is a growth category that can help pick up the slack.

But handling produce comes with its own challenges.

Shelf-rescue programs, for example, mean food banks will need more refrigerated trucks they can dispatch on short notice, said Ross Fraser, spokesman at Feeding America.

Gleaners pays 14 cents to 16 cents per pound to have produce that comes directly from farms washed and repackaged, Altmeyer-Alvey said.

“The more successful we are at getting food in, the more we have to pay to get it done,” she said.

The food bank has one staff member who oversees fresh food. Altmeyer-Alvey said the organization consulted industry manuals and volunteers. “We have taught ourselves a great deal.”

Despite the food banks’ recent efforts, pantries are often short of fresh food.

“They could use more here,” said one St. Vincent de Paul client, who identified himself only as Arnold.

The refrigerator stood empty that Tuesday afternoon. Early in the day, it held lettuce, peppers, pears, and prepared mashed potatoes. There were even five flats of mushrooms and a large container of raspberries.

“We’ve had 900 people shopping today,” day manager Jake Asher said. “They kindly pick us clean.”

The pantry relies on several sources, including Second Helpings and Midwest Food Bank, a faith-based organization with a facility south of Indianapolis.

The pantry also started its own garden and buys produce. The next step, Jerrell said, is to show clients how to use the odd surplus vegetables that show up.

“What do you do with a turnip?”•


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. I had read earlier this spring that Noodles & Co was going to open in the Fishers Marketplace (which is SR 37 and 131st St, not 141st St, just FYI). Any word on that? Also, do you happen to know what is being built in Carmel at Pennsylvania and Old Meridian? May just be an office building but I'm not sure.

  2. I'm sorry, but you are flat out wrong. There are few tracks in the world with the history of IMS and probably NO OTHER as widely known and recognized. I don't care what you think about the stat of Indy Car racing, these are pretty hard things to dispute.

  3. Also wondering if there is an update on the Brockway Pub-Danny Boy restaurant/taproom that was planned for the village as well?

  4. Why does the majority get to trample on the rights of the minority? You do realize that banning gay marriage does not rid the world of gay people, right? They are still going to be around and they are still going to continue to exist. The best way to get it all out of the spotlight? LEGALIZE IT! If gay marriage is legal, they will get to stop trying to push for it and you will get to stop seeing it all over the news. Why do Christians get to decide what is moral?? Why do you get to push your religion on others? How would legalizing gay marriage expose their lifestyle to your children? By the way, their lifestyle is going to continue whether gay marriage is legalized or not. It's been legal in Canada for quite a while now and they seem to be doing just fine. What about actual rules handed down by God? What about not working on Sundays? What about obeying your parents? What about adultery? These are in the 10 Commandments, the most important of God's rules. Yet they are all perfectly legal. What about divorce? Only God is allowed to dissolve a marriage so why don't you work hard to get divorce banned? Why do you get to pick and choose the parts of the Bible you care about?

  5. Look at the bright side. With the new Lowe's call center, that means 1000 jobs at $10 bucks an hour. IMS has to be drooling over all that disposable income. If those employees can save all their extra money after bills, in five years they can go to the race LIVE. Can you say attendance boost?