Thanksgiving Holiday will be a new experience with COVID-19. We have learned that many traditional community dinners need to be canceled this year because of the significant risk of spreading COVID-19. We agree that’s probably the wisest approach. It does put added stress on where families can find food aid as we struggle with our slippery food supply. We are still adapting to the fast changing food security landscape that will supply all of our programs. With a reduced supply of packaged products originating from the USDA, we are reaching out to our local food donors for every opportunity they have. This feels more like an approach, hoping for the phone to ring, which we did for years before COVID-19 disrupted food supplies, but with demand for food aid at an all-time high, before the Great Depression. This uncertainty only adds a layer of challenge to an incredibly challenging 8 months. Even the opportunity to buy food on the open market has limited availability with long lead times and higher costs than last year. Grocery stores still see shelf conditions to be somewhat unpredictable and that is translating back the food chain back to the factory / processor level.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll need to cut back on some of the aggressive distribution schedules we’ve been maintaining from March until we have better handling of the inventory images available. We’re quite often asked if we can pass out turkey on or around Thanksgiving and the answer is no. We don’t get donated turkeys to us and we can’t buy them as cheaply as the grocery store sells them. We’re doing our best to look for some extra items the food kitchen might use to make holiday baskets, but this year even those items were so rare they weren’t available at all.
Even with the reduction in the amount of food we anticipate over the next few weeks, we still need to store excess refrigerated supplies in trailers in our parking lot. This demonstrates another pressure point we’ve experienced over the last few years – the need to expand our chillers and freezers. We are completing design work to have something to show potential funders along with compiling our numbers that indicate needs with just basic math. Our industry has recognized, over the last decade, that a future opportunity to provide the necessary food aid will come from refrigerated and frozen foods. The amount of fresh produce available in the billions of pounds. It also has the nutritional profile our industry expects to provide for struggling families.
Our current physical capacity was determined in 2006 when we built our current coolers and freezers. At that point, we looked at the plan and wondered if we could justify that much refrigerated and frozen space that would be 3 times bigger than we had at the time. Over the years we have seen the percentage of perishable food distributed increase. About 70-80% (11,000,000 lbs.) Of everything we distribute (14,000,000 lbs.) Is refrigerated or frozen and we manage it at 5,500 sq. Ft. (16%) of our warehouse space. We literally had to move 2 pallets or load a truck to reach 1. Our warehouse team is constantly committed to getting the job done and has maintained a positive attitude in the face of many hardships!
Tim Kean is the President and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana. The Second Harvest Food Bank Network of 95 institutions, programs, 15 Senior sites, and 35 schools provides relationship building and food assistance to more than 65,000 low-income people who face daily instability in Blackford, Delaware, Grant, Henry, Jay, Madison, Randolph and Wabash counties.