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. Kent's done a good job of putting together some good guests, intelligence and irreverence without the inane chatter of the other two shows. JMV is unlistenable, mostly because he doesn't do his homework and depends on non-sports stuff to keep HIM interested. Query and Shultz is a bit better, but lack of prep in their show certainly is evident. Sterling obviously workes harder than the other shows. We shall see if there is any way for a third signal with very little successful recent history to make it. I always say you have to give a show two years to grow into what it will become...

  2. Lafayette Square, Washington Square should be turned into office parks with office buildings, conversion, no access to the public at all. They should not be shopping malls and should be under tight security and used for professional offices instead of havens for crime. Their only useage is to do this or tear them down and replace them with high rise office parks with secured parking lots so that the crime in the areas is not allowed in. These are prime properties, but must be reused for other uses, professional office conversions with no loitering and no shopping makes sense, otherwise they have become hangouts long ago for gangs, groups of people who have no intent of spending money, and are only there for trouble and possibly crime, shoplifting, etc. I worked summers at SuperX Drugs in Lafayette Square in the 1970s and even then the shrinkage from shoplifting was 10-15 percent. No sense having shopping malls in these areas, they earn no revenue, attract crime, and are a blight on the city. All malls that are not of use should be repurposed or torn down by the city, condemned. One possibility would be to repourpose them as inside college campuses or as community centers, but then again, if the community is high crime, why bother.

  3. Straight No Chaser

  4. Seems the biggest use of TIF is for pet projects that improve Quality Of Life, allegedly, but they ignore other QOL issues that are of a more important and urgent nature. Keep it transparent and try not to get in ready, fire, Aim! mode. You do realize that business the Mayor said might be interested is probably going to want TIF too?

  5. Gary, I'm in complete agreement. The private entity should be required to pay IPL, and, if City parking meters are involved, the parking meter company. I was just pointing out how the poorly-structured parking meter deal affected the car share deal.