CICF News / 2012 / May / News Post
May 29, 2012
Feeding Hamilton County


Hunger in Hamilton County -- the most affluent county in Indiana – is a reality. Long recognized as central Indiana’s booming center of new wealth and growth, Hamilton County is facing what some local social service leaders call a “tsunami of need”. With more households facing job layoffs, looming mortgage payments and drained savings accounts, poverty has increased by 67 percent. Many residents struggle to keep food in their pantries and on their tables.

In communities where hunger relief needs have been consistent, but also consistently small, the existing network of food pantries are doubling, tripling and in some cases quadrupling their services. Recognizing the growing demand for food to eat, Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana is bringing a new model – mobile food pantries – to supplement the efforts of food pantries across Hamilton County. In 20 mobile food pantry visits to Hamilton County in 2012, Gleaners plans to distribute 150,000 pounds of food to families at risk of hunger, funded in part by a grant from Legacy Fund, CICF’s Hamilton County affiliate.

Managing a New Level of Need

At White River Christian Church’s food pantry in Noblesville, Indiana, the volunteer-staffed food pantry is working hard to address the tremendous growth in community need. This spring, the 47 volunteers will provide emergency food assistance to an average of 125 families each Thursday evening. Four years ago, the group served 30 families a week. Gleaners has been increasing food distribution to Hamilton County on a steady basis, growing distribution by 22 percent in 2011.

“We are really blessed to be a Gleaners recipient agency,” says Deb Diaz, a volunteer at White River Christian Church who manages purchases and volunteer coordination for the food pantry. “Without them, we wouldn’t be able to serve nearly the number of people we do.”

Mobile food pantries allow hunger relief agencies to provide perishable goods, like asparagus shared at a Sheridan High School distribution, with ease.

Even as the community-based food pantries increase their supply and recruit more volunteers, Gleaners recognizes that serving the 25,790 food insecure Hamilton County residents requires some additional supports. Their mobile food pantry, outfitted with refrigerated compartments for perishable foods and a service window for quick distribution, provides an efficient way to serve up to 400 people in two hours. Those 400 people, in turn, represent a total household population of up to 1,500 people, including children and seniors.

“This is the single-most efficient way we know of to augment the capacity of food pantry systems,” says Robert Wilson, Gleaners’ Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations. “And, by including nutritious perishable foods, we help communities confront hunger and support health.”

Satisfying Suburbia’s Hunger Spike

Hamilton County has the second highest number of people facing food insecurity in the 21 counties served by Gleaners, second only to Marion County. Poverty rose in the county by 67 percent from 2006 to 2009, and poverty is closely associated with hunger. In 2009, 7 percent of Hamilton County’s children lived in poverty; in 2011, just under 16 percent of students received free or reduced-price lunches.

Combine those numbers with complicated financial challenges for families who may be facing a combination of layoffs, upside-down mortgages and accumulated debt, and a diverse mix of needs emerges. The existing food pantry network and the mobile food pantry serve many first-time clients who never expected to need emergency food assistance.

Hamilton County residents select the foods that match their families' needs.

“Our mobile food pantries allow clients to choose what items they’d like,” says Robert Wilson. “For individuals visiting a pantry for the first time, the level of respect offered by choice can lessen embarrassment or pain.”

With a mix of client choice, respect and connection, volunteers and Gleaners leadership both try to make the experience as positive as possible.

“We always try to offer more than food, to try to get to know them and build a relationship,” says Deb Diaz. “This can happen to anyone and we know it’s a hard thing to do, to just bring themselves for help.”

You can make a difference!

Our mission at Central Indiana Community Foundation is to inspire, support, and practice philanthropy, leadership and service in the community. We do that by: identifying community-wide issues; working with effective not-for-profits to address those needs; and serving as a philanthropic partner to individuals, family foundations and businesses who are interested in making central Indiana a better place for everyone.

To find out how you can play a role in addressing the needs identified in this story (or any of the stories posted at, please contact us at:

First photo provided by Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana.