The lack of food, and especially the lack of healthy food, is a constant challenge for millions of American families even in the best of times. This year, as we all know, has been far from the best of times.

Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, estimates that this year 54 million Americans may suffer from uncertain or limited access to enough food because of the coronavirus pandemic. That’s more than 16 percent – or about one in six – of all Americans.

The team at Shepherd Community Center can attest to that reality on Indianapolis’ near east side, where the unemployment rate soared and the lack of access to nutritious food reached critical levels this winter and spring because of the pandemic.

In response, Shepherd Community staff, working closely with partners such as Elanco Animal Health, distributed thousands of food boxes, sack breakfasts and sack lunches to east side neighbors.

Shepherd Executive Director Jay Height recently discussed the challenges and solutions of chronic hunger in a Facebook Live chat with Elanco President and CEO Jeff Simmons.

Simmons noted the swift and generous pandemic response from Indianapolis’ corporate community, which raised $1.5 million to help families in need. And he pointed out the great work of Shepherd partners such as Fair Oaks Farms, Indiana Pork Producers, Midwest Poultry, Harlan Bakeries and Rose Acre Farms to provide food for thousands of families.

But he also said that the fight against hunger in Indianapolis, the nation and around the worlds needs to focus on sustainability for the long term.

“Every time we do food relief like we did with COVID-19, we need to say, this isn’t the right way long term,” Simmons said. “Companies like Elanco need our dollars to go to programs and partners like Shepherd that say our job is to help people stand up. It’s livelihoods; it’s jobs. It’s what Shepherd does. It’s whole life support. It’s why Shepherd is so unique, and I encourage anyone to get activated in organizations like Shepherd.”

This year, like no other in recent decades, has exposed our nation’s, and our city’s, deep needs. Those needs go well beyond chronic hunger and include such foundational challenges as unequal access to high quality education, health care, housing and family-sustaining jobs.

As Simmons noted, Shepherd is deeply invested in addressing each of those needs on Indy’s east side. And the organization’s reach continues to grow.

Height noted that Shepherd recently installed a large deep freezer so that it can provide meat and other perishables to east side neighbors for the long haul.

Shepherd staff, in partnership with Near East Area Renewal, also are busy preparing for the opening of a new child care center at the Minnie Hartmann Center. The center not only will provide high quality care for 140 children once it’s at capacity, but it also will offer good jobs to workers in the neighborhood and give parents the flexibility needed to land family-sustaining jobs of their own. (Look for a post about the Minnie Hartmann Child Care Center soon).

It’s all about, as Jeff Simmons put it, helping neighbors to stand up.

And in this time of great challenges and great needs, people who have the means need more than ever to stand up for those in need.

“This world doesn’t need interested people,” Simmons said. “It needs invested people.”

To learn more about how you can invest with Shepherd in serving neighbors on the east side, go to https://www.shepherdcommunity.org/become-involved/

Leave a Reply