When people fall through the gaps of food access programs in Fort Wayne, these 4 organizations help

For tens of thousands of Allen County residents, not knowing where their next meal will come from and how they’ll pay for it is a daily reality. While some are able to receive relief through government assistance programs, others are left to seek out alternative options.

According to the latest report from Feeding America, nearly 44,000 people living in Allen County were considered food-insecure in 2019. That’s based on the USDA’s definition, which refers to, “lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.” The report goes on to explain that, “food-insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all the time. Food insecurity may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods.”

Seventy-four percent of food-insecure households qualify for government assistance programs like SNAP and WIC, yet they’re still considered “food-insecure.” Meanwhile, the other 26 percent make enough income so that they are not eligible for assistance programs.

So where can all of these families go for help? According to Mary Tyndall, Food and Nutrition Program Officer at the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation, that’s where local non-profits step in.

“Food banks and pantries are so vital to meeting the food and nutrition needs in our community,” Tyndall says. “Government assistance is not available or is not enough for families to be able to purchase the nutritious food they need to lead active and healthy lives.”

For many people, some of the larger and more well-known organizations, like the Community Harvest Food Bank, come to mind. Yet, that’s not where the list stops.

“The St. Joe Foundation is always looking for organizations that are meeting needs in innovative and compassionate ways respecting the dignity of those they have the opportunity to serve,” says Meg Distler, Executive Director for the St. Joe Foundation. “While Community Harvest Food Bank and Associated Churches are doing a tremendous job of feeding families, there are also many smaller organizations that play an integral role in providing access to nutritious food in underserved communities.”

Here are four local efforts and initiatives filling gaps to fight food insecurity in Fort Wayne and Allen County.
  1. Same City Food Truck
Same City Food Truck serves restaurant-quality meals to low-income and no-income individuals who may be experiencing homelessness.

According to Ryan Remington at Just Neighbors Interfaith Homeless Network, the mission of Same City Food Truck is a simple one at its core. They want to serve restaurant-quality meals to low-income and no-income individuals who may be experiencing homelessness.

The food truck is a fairly new initiative headed up by Just Neighbors, but it’s already making a significant impact. Since becoming fully-operational in June of 2021, Same City Food Truck has served well over 500 individuals, while also creating meaningful relationships with those they serve.

Remington says the food truck isn’t just new—it’s also a different way of meeting food needs in Fort Wayne.

“Same City Food Truck is an intentionally mobile idea,” Remington says. “This means that we’re able to GO to where there is a need. The traditional model of waiting for individuals to come to a specific organization, on a specific day, at a specific time seems outdated to us. With Same City, we want to disrupt the traditional means of doing things and get outside of our four walls. We have partnered with a number of the existing street outreach teams and rely on their already-scheduled events to meet and serve individuals. These events are attended by 30-50 individuals on a nightly basis all around Fort Wayne. We want to mobilize the truck and our volunteer base to, eventually, be at every outreach event, serving as often as we can and as extravagantly as we can.”

Another unique aspect of Same City Food Truck is the choice and elevated, nutritious experience it offers consumers.

“We are working towards using only locally sourced ingredients for our services,” Remington says. “The best cuts of meat are used, and we have a full-time chef who is constantly coming up with new recipes to bring new menu items to those we serve. We don’t want to become stagnant in the work that we’re doing. We want to innovate as much as possible, as often as possible. We believe, wholeheartedly, that everyone one of us is in this together because we’re all the Same City.”

You can learn more about Same City Food Truck and find out where they’ll be serving next at ihnfamily.org/food-truck.
  1. Heart of the City Mission
Heart of the City Mission has been working to break the cycle of generational poverty by supporting education, nutrition, hygiene, and wellness in urban areas of Northeast Indiana.

Since 2008, Heart of the City Mission has been working to break the cycle of generational poverty by supporting education, nutrition, hygiene, and wellness in urban areas of Northeast Indiana. When it comes to dealing with food insecurity, the organization uses volunteers to gather day-old food from 18 restaurants, local church non-perishable food drives, and food suppliers. They then redistribute that food to under-resourced households and individuals throughout Allen County.

According to Heart of the City’s Timothy Stauffer, this model solves two issues at one time. It provides food to families that need it, while also keeping perfectly-good food from going to the landfill.

Each month, the program benefits more than 900 individuals and unique households. It takes several volunteers to make that possible, but Stauffer says everyone is on-board and ready to help.

“Several of our volunteers have personal experience in the local poverty or at-risk neighborhoods,” Stauffer says. “We all have a focused determination to make a difference one life at a time.”

Stauffer hopes his organization will continue to grow and expand into more at-risk neighborhoods as time goes on.

You can learn more about Heart of the City Mission at hotcfw.org.
  1. Out of a Jam Inc.
Paula and Bernie Kaufman founded Out of a Jam in 2016

For Out of a Jam Founder Paula Kaufman, providing food to those struggling with food insecurity is just one piece of the puzzle. For the past five-and-a-half years, Out of a Jam has worked to develop culinary, vocational, and life skills of young adults through mentoring and compassion.

Through its “Feeding Fort Wayne” program, Out of a Jam has been able to give away nutritious food through a network of churches and the Veterans Administration Hospital Food Pantry. Kaufman says they make a point of distributing their food through organizations that are aware of and involved with individuals who are under-employed. It’s a method that comes from personal connections.

“Almost everyone on our staff and those we train have either experience or are dealing with generational or situational poverty, and we have the capacity and the passion to help,” Kaufman says.

The “Feeding Fort Wayne” program is just one of the organization’s four main initiatives. You can learn more about them and how they’re impacting the community at outofajamfw.org.
  1. St. Vincent de Paul Society
St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) Society's largest initiative is its food program.

The word of the day for the St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) Society of Fort Wayne is “growth.” When the organization began in 1944, it had just one service location. Today, the organization serves clients out of 22 different locations across Northeast Indiana with more than 500 volunteers.

SVDP Society’s largest initiative is its Food Program. Along with its main service locations, the organization also has nine food pantries specifically located in food deserts around the Greater Fort Wayne area. Additionally, individuals are offered access to food vouchers to the Community Harvest Food Bank and gift cards to grocery stores as needed.

One of the most common issues that food-insecure individuals in food deserts face is access to nutritious food, in particular. SVDP Society aims to address that also, as volunteers often help clients with transportation, which expands their options of nutritious items they need for their households.

Lara Schreck, SVDP Society Executive Director, says she understands that food-insecurity impacts many areas of daily life. That’s why her organization’s trained volunteers often visit clients in their homes and try to determine if clients need further assistance with rent, utilities, transportation, clothing, furniture, or other needs.

“The overall goal of the SVDP Society is to serve our most vulnerable neighbors with dignity and respect to give them hope for the future,” says Schreck. “How can they look ahead to a better life if they are worried about where they will find their next meal or if they are anxious about how to feed their children? We have seen clients find the strength to battle their addictions and the confidence to get a better job because of the help and compassion they have received at our organization.”

Nearly 80 years after the organization began, Schreck hopes more great things are still to come.

“We hope to continue to be able to provide nutrition to all who suffer in poverty, especially those who are unable receive government assistance,” Schreck says. “More than 20,000 individuals were served through our Food Program last year, but there continues to be a great need. Our future plans are to expand our service area with a new location in a high-poverty area to better serve the needs of those experiencing food insecurity.”

To learn more about the St. Vincent de Paul Society, visit https://svdpsfw.org.

This story is part of a series about healthy eating disparities and solutions in Northeast Indiana. It is made possible with funding from the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation.