Hoosier Hills Food Bank launches Project Grow

With the arrival of its newest fleet vehicle, “Growver”, Hoosier Hills Food Bank (HHFB) has launched Project GROW – the Garden Route On Wheels to distribute more fresh produce to agencies in Monroe County.  “Growver” joined the HHFB fleet Monday after delivery last week by Curry Auto Center to Signs Now for graphics installation.

GROW is being initiated with a $50,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County (CFBMC), which supported the purchase of the van and the addition of staff hours to handle deliveries.  Further support was provided by Curry Auto Center and the City of Bloomington Community Farmer’s Market.  Community response to HHFB’s Feeding America/Hussman Challenge grant last winter is also helping the food bank to procure additional fresh produce.

“Getting more fresh produce out to our partner agencies has been a major goal for the past several years,” said HHFB Executive Director and CEO Julio Alonso. “We’ve been able to break down barrier after barrier to make that happen and this project represents a major step.  We often have produce to offer but many of our agencies haven’t been able to access it because of resource or logistical limitations.  This project will take the produce to them at times when it is convenient – so they don’t have to come get it and they don’t have to store it for extended periods.”

On Tuesday, “Growver” will make his first deliveries, offering fresh kale grown in HHFB’s Garden, purchased fresh carrots and watermelons, and produce from weekly Farmer’s Market vendor donations to the Salvation Army of Bloomington, Bloomington Township Food Pantry, Stepping Stones, and New Hope Family Shelter.  Future weekly deliveries will include about 7 other agencies including Area 10 Agency on Aging, Richland Township Food Pantry, Perry Township Food Pantry, First United Methodist Church Food Pantry, Monroe County United Ministries food pantry and child care program, and Middle Way House.

Additional agencies will be brought on as the project evolves, said Alonso.  “We’re trying to tailor this around when the agencies need the food, but also have to factor in when we have product and when staff is available to deliver, so we’re starting with about a dozen and will add as time goes on.  Some of our larger agencies, like Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, Community Kitchen and Shalom Center already receive deliveries because they’re so large and we can move large quantities of other products to them.  Up to now we haven’t really had the capacity to deliver to smaller agencies. We distributed over 756,000 pounds of fresh produce last year and we want to do more so clients have healthy options. ”

“Growver” will also get an introduction to the Bloomington community this week, with two opportunities to support the food bank.  The van, a refrigerated 2014 Chevrolet Express 3500, will be part of HHFB’s entry in Friday’s Bloomington 4th of July parade, when the food bank will collect non-perishable food donations from parade goers.  On Saturday, July 5, “Growver” will be at the City of Bloomington Community Farmer’s Market to collect fresh produce donations from market patrons and vendors and help promote the Plant a Row program.

Like all HHFB programs, support from across the community is making GROW possible.  “The Community Foundation’s grant is the lynch pin for this program,” said HHFB Director of Development and Administration Jake Bruner. 

“They’ve funded some additional staff time for the first year, and more importantly they funded the cost of the van. But we wouldn’t have been able to get the van we needed if Curry Auto Center hadn’t stepped up and made sure the price fit our budget.  Signs Now helped keep the graphics costs down and since the van is tied in with our weekly Farmer’s Market collections, the Market helped with those costs.  Of course, we also need ongoing support to keep the produce flowing.  It will come from our garden and gleaning programs, from Plant a Row, from local retail donations and from purchases and all of that involves volunteers, food donors and financial support.”

CFBMC President and CEO Tina Peterson expressed excitement about the Foundation’s role in supporting GROW, “Hoosier Hill Food Bank is an organization that is never satisfied with business as usual.  They constantly strive for new and better ways to serve our community by helping to support and catalyze others who work on the front line of addressing hunger and food insecurity in our community.  Given that HHFB supports essentially every organization serving those in need of food support, it becomes apparent that progress and innovation at the food bank translate to progress and innovation for hundreds of other organizations too.   The Community Foundation is grateful for the opportunity to continue partnering with HHFB and you can bet we will be applauding every time we see “Growver” making deliveries around the community!”