Accessing healthy food in central Indiana

Pantry partners join together to help our neighbors in need

The Indy Hunger Network reports that 172,510 food-insecure people live in Marion County. That means that 19% of the population doesn’t have access to enough food for everyone in a household. More than 200 food pantries currently support 10,000 food-insecure residents in Marion County and help them access groceries for free. But how healthy is that food? Poor diet is linked to several chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis and some cancers. Fortunately, local pantries are beginning to take steps to promote healthier eating.

A volunteer stocks produce at the Sharing Place, a food pantry in Lawrence
A volunteer prepares produce at the Sharing Place pantry in Lawrence Township

When a family is suffering from food insecurity, it may be difficult to think about the quality and nutritional value of food being provided – food in any form is too urgent a need. But healthy food access is critical in ensuring that needing food assistance doesn’t not condemn someone to poor nutrition. Locally, the Indy Hunger Network focuses on food insecurity and in 2018 started an annual conference, the Pantry Summit, where pantries could come together to share ideas, build communication channels, and find ways to partner in supporting the needs of their communities. The first year of the Summit, Jump IN created a healthy pantry packet with tips for pantries to be healthier and to incorporate signage and design to encourage clients to make healthier choices. In that first year’s Summit, health was a peripheral topic; healthy food was important to those who manage and volunteer at pantries but making the right changes felt unattainable and too difficult to tackle. Over the last two years, things have changed. March 19, now in the third year of the summit, health will be an integral part of the event. If you are interested in learning more or attending, it will be free at Light of the World Church and you can register (if there’s still room) here.

Jump IN CEO Julie Burns moderates a panel on healthy pantries, 2019
Jump IN CEO Julie Burns moderates a panel on healthy pantries, 2019

In addition to preparing for the Pantry Summit, the Indy Hunger Network has just launched a new app designed to combat hunger and to connect those in need with available and accessible resources. The app is call Community Compass and may be downloaded for free to your smartphone from the App Store or Google Play. The Compass connects the user with food resources close to their location or by searching different areas of Indianapolis. It can connect the user with access to meals or to groceries that are available for free as well as WIC and SNAP locations.

Flyer promoting Community Compass, the app for help finding food assistance in Marion County

Jump IN for Healthy Kids has focused a great deal of work on food access in Lawrence and the far eastside. Thanks to support from the Glick Fund and the Anthem Foundation, we have established the Healthy Food Retail Initiative (HFRI) that has included engaging the community, hiring Community Ambassadors, and working with local corner stores to offer healthier choices at affordable prices. Read more about the work here.

The first corner store on the far east side of Indianapolis, offering healthier options