The City of Indianapolis has partnered with Gleaners Food Bank for a pilot program aimed at getting nutritious food in the hands of those who need it.
The Community Action Relief Effort (CARE) Bags program provide sacks of groceries to Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) officers in the department’s East District, who then distribute the sacks as they encounter residents in need.
The program’s six-month pilot period launched in late March with a shipment of 160 pre-packed bags to IMPD, Kathy Hahn Keiner, Gleaners’ chief programs officer, told the Recorder.
To hear Hahn Keiner describe the contents of the bags, it’s clear a lot of thought went into the program. All items are shelf-stable and suitable for a stint in an IMPD cruiser, meaning canned goods, which don’t tolerate extreme heat or cold, are not included. Though the bags can’t be tailored for individual needs such as food allergies or other dietary restrictions, Hahn Keiner said they did take into account who the likely recipients would be and packed the bags accordingly.
“We want it to be family-friendly, kid-friendly food that people are familiar with and know how to cook,” she said. “We wanted nutritious, shelf-stable food that was familiar to the families — food they would eat.”
The list includes everything from Tuna Helper and macaroni and cheese, to pancake mix and syrup, peanut butter and jelly, and rice and beans.
In addition to food, each bag contains information for the recipient to find more assistance, such as contact information for 211 and hours for Gleaners Community Cupboards. The Office of Public Health and Safety also follows up with each bag recipient to see if other services are needed. According to data from the City about the first month of the program, 64 percent of CARE Bag recipients took advantage of other available services.
Other data highlights from the first month include:
n 57 officers participated
n 28 CARE Bags were given to residents in need
n Two children, three seniors and 11 residents experiencing homelessness were among those given CARE Bags
n As a result of an IMPD run during which a CARE Bag was distributed, one person was diverted from arrest and two people accepted needed medical care
Hahn Keiner said the program and contents of the bags might need to be tweaked — as is common with pilot programs — to accommodate the unique needs of people experiencing homelessness.
“Are there more homeless people out there than we thought? What does this mean for the homeless population since we’ve been serving some of them? That’ll be one area we would look at,” she said.
If all continues to go well with the program, expansion is a possibility.
“We really need to see what is working, what are the challenges and what kind of improvements we’d like to make going forward,” Hahn Keiner said. “We do anticipate expanding it to other public safety agencies, but there’s always a question of how do you sustain the program and how do you sustain the expansion of it, too.”
For people who want to contribute to the CARE Bags program, monetary donations are preferred over food donations, since products are purchased specifically for this program. Hahn Keiner said donated funds can be earmarked for the program.
For more information about Gleaners Food Bank, visit gleaners.org.