As the final clients head home with their bags and boxes of food, the volunteers of the Edinburgh Food Pantry finish up their work organizing their space on the town’s main street.
They stock the shelves with non-perishable food and other supplies. Produce is boxed up and stored in a collection of refrigerators lined up in a side room. The waiting room is cleaned and ready for the next distribution day.
For the two days per month the pantry is open, the pantry passes out food to nearly 40 families struggling to eat. Their work is essential, organizers say.
“I’m amazed at how much we’re able to give out to these families that come in. Having more storage capacity will allow us to serve more families or give them even more to help with their food budget,” said David Bauman, director of the food pantry.
Now, with the help of a grant from Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, the Edinburgh Food Pantry will be able to better serve the people in their community. The grant for more than $176,600 is earmarked to purchase a walk-in freezer and cooler, additional carts for clients, an enclosed trailer and a computer to help keep track of clients.
These items will make a significant impact on the people of Edinburgh, said Sloan Shockley Lewis, local service manager for Gleaners serving Johnson County.
“The pantry has set a standard. They’ve been a great partner of Gleaners for many years, and it’s exciting to see them grow,” she said. “They’ve worked very hard to be good stewards of all of the gifts given them, so we knew they could handle this size of a grant to acquire these items.”
Food insecurity and poverty touches every corner of Johnson County. The county had an estimated 6.7% of the population living in poverty in 2020, according to the Census Bureau. More than 15,200 residents are food insecure, including 4,150 children.
Using data from the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates, an estimated 14.4% students from Edinburgh Community Schools live in poverty.
Volunteers for the Edinburgh Food Pantry see a steady flow of area residents in need of food every month, Bauman said.
“We’re seeing a significant need, but it was a lot more during COVID,” he said. “We’d have more than 80 families coming in every time we were open, whereas today we only had 39. That’s pretty typical.”
The food pantry in Edinburgh was initially founded by the Edinburgh Ministerial Association, a united effort by local church leaders to address community issues. The group still operates the pantry, though they have recently transitioned to a new name, Edinburgh Fellowship of Churches.
Since the 1980s, a pantry has been available for residents in need. At one point, it was housed in the same building as an Edinburgh senior center, and organizers passed out whatever items had been donated.
The mission to keep the pantry going has been commitment of the association.
“There continues to be a need. The ministerial association’s mission it to meet people’s needs, and that is a basic one,” said Nancy West, a member of the Edinburgh Fellowship of Churches.
Currently, the food pantry relies on community donations and funds to purchase food, as well as items provided through Gleaners and Midwest Food Bank, to provide for their neighbors.
That relationship with Gleaners is what sparked the decision to apply for a grant.
Gleaners is a leader in fighting hunger throughout central Indiana, serving food pantries and organizing distributions in communities throughout the state.
One of their initiatives is the Partner Capacity Grant program, which was created to help pantries that need equipment or facility upgrades to provide fruits, vegetables and other fresh food for clients.
“We’ve always promoted and encouraged our food pantries to take advantage of the fresh produce we offer and help us to get that great food out to their neighbors,” said Shockley Lewis. “Sometimes, those things need refrigeration or other equipment to make that happen.”
Applicants provide detailed information about what they need, the exact costs and how it will benefit the community around them. Those applications are reviewed by a Gleaners committee, which then distributes the money.
Edinburgh’s unique situation made it an idea candidate, Shockley Lewis said.
“Where they are located at, their pantry serves food to neighbors in three counties,” she said. “They have folks coming from all over, they serve anyone and don’t turn anyone away.”
Shockley Lewis met with Edinburgh food pantry leaders and discussed ways the grant could help. Initially, pantry officials were thinking small.
“She said there’s a grant available, so we thought we could use some carts that work better and some new shelving,” said Joanne Hollenbeck, a member of the Edinburgh Fellowship of Churches. “She asked, ‘Isn’t there anything more? Isn’t there anything big you could use it for?”
One of the most significant upgrades made possible through the grant is a mobile walk-in cooler and walk-in freezer. The food pantry has assembled a collection of refrigerators and freezers to store donations and leftover food in between distributions.
All of that can be downsized with this new cooler and freezer. With more space, they can also add more fresh food for clients, Hollenbeck said.
“One of the goals when we wrote the grant was this allowed us to have more fresh items available. What we have now, we can only do so much,” she said. “And sometimes if we don’t have enough neighbors come in, and we have things left over, we can store them better now.”
Receiving the grant was a shock, Hollenbeck said.
“I cried. Sloan called me and said she was in tears, and then I started crying,” she said.
On May 23, representatives from Gleaners met at the Edinburgh Food Pantry to officially award the grant. They posed with a giant check and celebrated with other town leaders the significant boost to the Edinburgh community.
“We’re very excited to see how this will impact their distribution, to see what kinds of food they’ll be able to get and store,” Shockley Lewis said.
AT A GLANCE
Edinburgh Food Pantry
What: A program of the Edinburgh Fellowship of Churches providing fresh and non-perishable food to families in the Edinburgh area.
When: The pantry is open 10 a.m.-1 p.m. on the first Saturday of the month and the third Thursday
Where: 110 E. Main Cross St., Edinburgh. Parking and entrance is in the back of the building.
Other ways to get help: There are three Blessing Boxes, one located at Edinburgh Aquatic Center, 220 Harrell Drive, with the box located on Shelby Drive, and Wright Hageman Library, 119 W. Cross St., and at Who So Ever Will Community Church, 623 S. Eisenhower Dr. Anyone is welcome to leave or take food at these locations.