Local food banks struggling to bring back volunteers to serve central Indiana

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INDIANAPOLIS – After more than a year of pandemic-related challenges and restrictions, two of central Indiana’s larges non-profit organizations are still struggling to bring volunteers back to their operations.

Midwest Food Bank is normally driven by about 3,500 volunteers as the organization feeds about 90,000 Hoosiers in 72 Indiana counties.  However, executive director John Whitaker says the organization is managing with only half that number of volunteers.

“So we have a handful of people working longer hours to get the work done and they’re frankly just worn out,” Whitaker said.  “We just haven’t seen the numbers increase, so I think people have gotten pretty comfortable being at home a bit.”

Midwest Food Bank isn’t alone.  Gleaners Food Bank is also struggling to bring in volunteers, and nobody showed up to a recent hiring event for Gleaners.

Midwest Food Bank employs a small number of staff members while relying heavily on volunteers throughout the community.  Still, as more Hoosiers become vaccinated against Covid-19 and life continues to move closer to normal, Whitaker says individuals and groups are still not returning to volunteer in the numbers needed.

“We had about 82 different businesses that would bring people,” he said.  “And only a handful of those have come back with their folks to help.”

About six months ago, Midwest Food Bank used $200,000 in emergency funding from Eli Lilly to hire several temporary employees in order to replace volunteers who hadn’t returned.  However, the move was merely a stopgap measure, and the funding is expected to run out in the next couple weeks.

“When that runs out, we’re all going to be all hands on deck,” Whitaker said.  “And so we need everyone to step up and help.”

Whitaker says four things are needed to run a successful food bank; funding, food, folks and faith.  Right now, there’s plenty of food and faith to go around, but they need more folks to get the food where it needs to go.

“They don’t realize what an important role they play in not-for-profits” Whitaker said.  “It’s essential, it’s vital to the success of our organization.”

Anyone interested in volunteering can find information at the Midwest Food Bank and Gleaners Food Bank websites.

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