While food disparities existed in Allen County well before COVID-19, they have only gotten worse since the pandemic began.
In fact, according to a Community Needs Assessment administered by the Parkview Mirro Center for Research & Innovation in March, 44 percent of nearly 5,000 residents are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and 65 percent are concerned about finding and purchasing food.
At the same time, many area businesses and organizations have excess food as the pandemic cancels events and makes the future uncertain.
As a result, some innovative nonprofits in Fort Wayne are connecting the dots, rescuing good food from going to waste and administering it to those in need.
One such example is Mentoring Moms.
A Fort Wayne chapter of a global organization, Mentoring Moms is a 501(c)3 nonprofit Christian Women's organization, serving women of all races, ages, ethnic, and economic groups. Women do not have to be moms to participate. They may be single, married, separated, divorced, or widowed, and with or without children, but one thing they all have in common is stress, crisis, conflict, and the need for mutual support.
In Northeast Indiana, the Fort Wayne chapter has been operating since 1999, serving mostly in the 46808 zip code, but it is open to all who wish to volunteer their time helping others experiencing stress and trauma over weekly meals.
So how is Mentoring Moms fighting food waste during the pandemic?
You might remember an app I wrote about in December 2018 called Food Rescue US. This cool app (available in Fort Wayne) allows restaurants and catering services to enter excess food into a web-based platform where charities in need can then claim it to prevent good food from going into the landfill.
For example, food donations are entered into the app by places like the Parkview Regional Medical Center Café, where planning for the correct number of people can be difficult and result in excess food on certain days. The app then matches the donation with a group in need of food and utilizes a network of local volunteers to serve as liaisons, delivering food from point A to point B. (I’m a food delivery volunteer, and you can be, too, if you sign up!)
For several months now, Dianne Stitzer, executive director of Mentoring Moms, has been using Food Rescue US to provide “Women’s In Night” meals that give her group a chance to bond and support each other through life’s struggles. But when Gov. Eric Holcomb issued a statewide stay-home order in March, Mentoring Moms was suddenly unable to gather for its weekly meals.
Thinking strategically, Stitzer and her team of dedicated volunteers figured out how to stay in touch with the women in their group and get food to them during the pandemic. Due to financial and other stresses, many of the women they serve live in temporary housing. Others stay in homes of friends and relatives, so they are often moving frequently.
Despite these logistical challenges, Mentoring Moms has been able to harness Food Rescue US to provide food to women who would normally attend their meetings, as well as others in their households who may be experiencing increased food insecurity as a result of the pandemic, too.
The team put together a food distribution operation, dividing up portions, and piling them into personal vehicles to deliver to women, families, neighbors, and others in need.
“At first, we were all over the place,” Stitzer says. “We had no organization, and our paths were crossing all over town. We had to sit down with a map and create routes so that we could be more efficient.”
When food comes in now, some Mentoring Moms volunteers start bagging it up, and some start making calls. Because living situations can vary day-to-day, the number of meals and locations differs for each round of deliveries, but the volunteers are prepared. And they’re suiting up for the pandemic with gloves and masks to make the system as safe as possible.
You might say they have adopted a new mission during the pandemic: Save food, support those going through difficult times during a global health crisis, and be “spiritual and emotional mothers” practicing social distancing.
Do you have excess food, a vehicle to deliver it, or a group that needs food?
Check out Food Rescue US, and help prevent food waste in Fort Wayne.