Food is one of the most fundamental parts of life, yet 11.1% of people living in Seward County don’t always have food to eat.
“1,890 people living in Seward County are food insecure,” said Michaella Kumke, communications director for the Food Bank of Lincoln.
The food bank is trying to do something about it by holding a free food distribution each month in Seward and a free produce mobile once a month in Milford, but Mary Arter, the food bank relations coordinator for the Food Bank of Lincoln, said the number of people utilizing those distributions is well below the statistical need.
“We feel like there’s a need in Seward, and we feel like we’re not reaching those people in the county,” she said.
The Food Bank uses research from the Map the Meal Gap study by the Feeding America network, which consists of 200 food banks across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
It gives annual, county-by-county results of research made possible by The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Nielsen and the Conagra Brands Foundation, taking into account the cost of food, employment rates, household income, the poverty rate and other factors.
The complete data can be found at map.feedingamerica.org.
Arter said the Food Bank just received data for the first five months of 2019, which show that fewer families in Seward County are using the food bank’s resources.
“We’re averaging 49 families a month in Seward, and we had 56 families on average last year,” Arter said.
She said those numbers aren’t too far off, and that she’s hopeful more people will come to the distributions as the months go on.
The monthly produce mobile in Milford has about 25 people who attend.
“We’d like to see at least twice that many, when we’re looking at what we know are the statistics,” Kumke said.
The Seward food distributions are held at St. John Lutheran Church’s fellowship hall at 919 N. Columbia Avenue on the fourth Tuesday of each month from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.
The next distribution date is June 25.
Those who attend are asked to fill out a form with their name, address and the number of people in their family.
Arter said the form outlines income guidelines, but the food bank uses the honor system to verify that information.
“If they are in line wanting to get food, we do not question that information ever,” she said.
Those who are unable to make it to the distribution can send someone else in their place by filling out a proxy form, which the food bank will keep on file for a year.
“Say someone’s homebound and they have a friend that can come to the distribution. They can give permission for someone to pick up the food for them,” Arter said.
The proxy form is available at the distribution site or online at www.lincolnfoodbank.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/TEFAP_Proxy_Form_110116.pdf.
In Milford, the monthly produce mobile is the fourth Thursday of the month at Bellwood Mennonite Church, located at 520 South B Street, from 2 to 3 p.m.
“We take produce, and our truck stays in the parking lot. Clients can just come up and take a certain amount of produce, no questions asked, no papers signed,” Arter said.
The food being distributed comes from a variety of sources. Some is from the USDA, some is from donations by the public, some from retailer or manufacturer donations, and the rest is purchased by the Food Bank of Lincoln.
“Seventy-three percent of our food comes from retail or manufacturing partners,” Kumke said. “About 12% is purchased product.”
The food bank relies on cash donations to help cover the cost of more expensive foods.
“When we go to the grocery story, produce is very expensive, as is getting it transported to our service area,” Kumke said. “We couldn’t do that if we did not have funding.”
Being part of the Feeding America network allows them to make some bulk purchases, as well.
“We try to invest in produce. That’s seasonal,” Arter said. “Sometimes we have donations of milk and eggs. The community helps us in so many ways.”
The food bank makes daily stops at grocery stores to pick up bread, baked goods, cooler items and more that have reached their “sell by” date but are still OK to eat.
“They go by a different date at the grocery store, but it’s still in the time frame that we can use it,” Arter said.
In Seward County over the last fiscal year (July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018), the food bank distributed 145,157 meals valued at $436,264.
One meal equals about 1.2 pounds of food, which means the bank distributed 184,988 pounds.
The distribution at St. John is staffed by volunteers, which Arter said the food bank really appreciates.
“The food distribution at the church is a wonderful group of volunteers,” Arter said. “They raise their own money to make sure there’s extra goodies on the table, whether that’s toilet paper or something we don’t normally have.”
“The way that that congregation has rallied … We’ve referred to them in different ways as our shining star volunteer group,” Kumke said.
St. John also operates its own food pantry, Christ’s Cupboard, which is separate from the food bank distributions.
Those with questions about the distributions can simply show up at the site or call the Food Bank of Lincoln at (402) 466-8170.
“We always try to remind people that the reason we’re here is because life can change in an instant for people,” Kumke said. “The environment is welcoming. It stays confidential to the extent that we can possibly provide that. Whether people need some short-term help or something longer, this is why we are here.”