IU Corps students gain professional experience, support the community through Hoosier Hills Food Bank
On a recent Friday afternoon in early November, while offices everywhere were winding down for the weekend, the Bloomington, Ind.-based Hoosier Hills Food Bank was a whirlwind of activity.
In the lobby were stacks of books from the annual Food Bank Book Fair fundraiser, which takes place each October. Indiana University Bloomington students with IU Corps placements at the food bank were making calls, creating newsletters, coordinating deliveries, and running numbers in areas spanning development to operations. Already that afternoon, the agency had already seen about 30 volunteers, some driving food trucks with names like “Regina.”
Everyone was in motion.
“Friday is our busiest day,” said Jake Bruner, director of development and administration at the food bank during a tour of the facility. “We work hard Fridays to get a lot of food out the door and delivered to agencies.” Among its many partnerships with United Way of Monroe County agencies, Hoosier Hills Food Bank provides food for Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, the Community Kitchen, New Hope Family Shelter, Salvation Army, Area 10 Agency on Aging, Monroe County United Ministries, Boys & Girls Clubs of Bloomington, Girls Inc., Amethyst House, and Middle Way House.
Bruner provided a tour through the high ceilinged warehouse rooms full of dry goods and bulk items, noting the area earmarked for IU’s Crimson Cupboard, an on-campus food pantry for the IU community operated by IU Corps. A conveyor-belt bore some of the 1,000 boxes of nonperishable food that go out to seniors in six counties every month; a brand-new program has infused these deliveries with fresh foods such as apples and milk. In a cool, spotless room connected to a warehouse space with three giant refrigerators, “food rescue” volunteers repackaged unused fresh food from area farms, Indiana University, local restaurants, grocery stores such as Fresh Thyme and Lucky’s and the Monroe County Community School Corporation.
60 million pounds of food
Since opening its doors in 1982, the Bloomington, Ind.-based Hoosier Hills Food Bank has distributed over 60 million pounds of food to an increasing number of clients in an area that now covers Brown, Lawrence, Orange, Owen, Martin and Monroe counties. Volunteers and employees drive the food to partner United Way member agencies and mobile pantries in rural food deserts where people don’t have as much access to fresh, healthy food. Hoosier Hills has just 12 full-time staff members and over 2,000 volunteers, many of whom are IU students, staff, and faculty.
Julio Alonso, director of the Hoosier Hills Food Bank, said the agency acts as an infrastructure that processes donated food from retailers, farmers, and wholesalers and distributes it to those who need it most. “You just can’t function well and do the things you need to do if you’re worried about putting food on the table,” Alonso said. “That’s true across all walks of life.”
The food bank collects, stores, and distributes food that serves more than 100 nonprofit agencies, 100 food pantries, and nearly 26,000 individuals each year, also helping curb food waste by collecting and repackaging perfectly good usable food. In 2017, it distributed 4,223,459 total pounds of food and 1,154,936 pounds of fresh produce. “The agencies we work with serve children, seniors, and everyone in between. They’re addressing addiction, homelessness, domestic violence, health care – and all of these issues can cause people to be in poverty or require food assistance,” he said.
Alonso added that he hopes that working at Hoosier Hills leaves a lasting impact on the IU students who work there. “The students that work with us in particular are usually pretty stellar people,” he said. “Maybe they’ll go on to careers in nonprofits, but even if they don’t, if they go into something completely different, hopefully they’ll remember what that experience was like and be generous in their lives. I hope they’ll try to volunteer, try to donate, try to help out, and try not to be judgmental.”