ELKHART — A major partnership between Church Community Services in Elkhart and the Food Bank of Northern Indiana could bring much needed relief to local families struggling to put food on their tables.
Leaders from the two organizations announced Thursday plans to join forces early next year to boost the supply of food and improve distribution in Elkhart County. Church Community Services’ warehouse will serve as a collection and distribution center for about 30 food pantries in the county. Workers from the pantries will no longer have to travel to South Bend to pick up food to stock their shelves.
“It will make the delivery of food to people who need it the most more efficient and more abundant,” said Rod Roberson, executive director of Church Community Services. “All of the food that is procured in Elkhart County will stay in Elkhart County.”
The partnership will be a drastic change that will ultimately increase the food supply in Elkhart County, said Mary Kneller, food services director for Church Community Services.
“Food insecurity in Elkhart County has been one of the highest in the nation, and there are several reasons for it,” Kneller said. “Affordable housing is a real issue. We’ve got a whole new class of working poor, and we’re seeing a huge increase in seniors who can’t afford to buy food for themselves.”
There are about 27,000 families living in poverty in Elkhart County, Roberson estimated.
“Our needs in Elkhart County have been just over the top,” he said.
In fact, “over the top” may even be an understatement, Roberson added. Church Community Services distributed more than 2.5 million pounds of food to people in the community last year, he said.
“It is growing and growing, and that is why we need to collaborate at a larger level,” Roberson said.
Church Community Services’ food warehouse off of Oakland Avenue is the largest in the area. The organization expanded its headquarters in September, doubling the size of its food pantry and tripling the size of its warehouse. Roberson said Church Community Services is ready to take on the extra activity in early 2013 with 19 people on staff and about 180 volunteers eager to help.
“This is a monumental change of how food comes into the county, and it should serve the county a whole lot better,” Roberson said. “This significantly transforms the way food is delivered to people who need it the most.”