League of Women Voters

Finding hunger, giving hope


Would it surprise you to learn that food insecurity was lowest during the pandemic? Defined as “not always having access to enough food to lead an active healthy life” or skipping meals to feed children or purchase medicine, food insecurity dropped from March 2020 through 2021 because everyone banded together to fight hunger, said Kier Crites Muller, president and CEO of Food Finders Food Bank, at February’s Lunch with the League.

The problem is dire again, Crites Muller added. Food insecurity in the U.S. increased 31% from 2021 to 2022, up to 44 million people, including 13 million children. It’s up 44% since 2020, the highest number since 2014 and the most significant increase since 2008’s financial crisis, the USDA reports. Whiel hunger and food insecurity affect a higher proportion of ethnic/racial minority who’ve been affected by generational poverty caused by discriminatory policies in banking, housing, and governance, hunger is part of a complex net in which low-income people struggle. Wherever there is lack of affordable housing, where wages are low, insurance is unaffordable, and healthcare providers are scarce, food insecurity is high.

Food insecurity in Montgomery County affects almost 4,100 individuals or just under 11% of the population, though it’s slightly higher for children. About 52% of the county qualifies for SNAP, which helps people avoid extreme hunger, and their SNAP dollars help cover the average cost of a meal which rings up at $3.18. SNAP is the first line of defense against the increasing need at FISH and Grace & Mercy Food Pantry. The regular pleas for help with food on county chatter channels testify to intensifying problem locally.

Food Finders helps to bridge the gap. Because of the power of its network, Food Finders, which is 100% non-profit food bank, can provide three meals for every dollar donated. Its network includes local food pantries, the national Feeding America organization, along with other food manufacturers and distributors. 

Foodbanks developed in the 1970s. Many don’t know that food banks are different than food pantries. A food bank warehouses of millions of pounds of food and other products to be distributed in the community, It provides support for hunger-relief charities and local organizations like soup kitchens, shelters, and food pantries. Pantries like FISH and Grace & Mercy are a smaller form of a direct-distribution. Food banks can be smaller and rural or larger and urban. Here in West Central Indiana, Food Finders serves sixteen counties with 65,000 residents, and like all food banks, they rely upon donors and volunteers to achieve their mission of providing food with dignity.

The organization works with ninety Indiana partners ­— among them, Crawfordsville Adult Resource Academy, Church Alive, New Richmond Christian Church, Through the Gate, FISH and Grace & Mercy Ministries - but they also have direct service provisions, including their backpack program, 18 mobile pantries and summer food programs. Last year, Food Finders gave away 635,606 lbs of food or about 529,671 meals.

What many don’t realize is that local pantries do pay a minimal fee for the food, in part because warehousing and transporting thousands of pounds of food is costly. Food Finders is allowed to charge nineteen cents a pound on shelf-stable food to help offset costs, but because they cannot charge the same for produce, bread, and other items, the overall cost for local pantries is closer to a couple of cents per pound.

Food Finders sources food from food manufacturers, Purdue food stores, Feeding America, farmers, hunters, businesses, food drives, restaurants, retail grocers, and agricultural associations. Feeding America connects food banks and helps them source a wider variety of food from manufacturers and larger food sources via a points program. So if one food bank receives a huge donation of tomato products and another cereal, they can trade and even out what is on the shelf. Feeding Amercain also supports local banks with funding, connections to grants and resources.

Not only does Food Finders stock items for many local pantries, its mobile pantry trucks come to each of the sixteen counties at least once a month, thanks to grants. Each truck carries 5000 pounds of food. Some other organizations and businesses may sponsor a second mobile pantry for $2,000, which many churches or businesses split.

One of Food Finders most exciting direct distribution innovations is their Fresh Market in Tippecanoe County. The store front is open five days a week, with night and weekend hours, and allows customers to shop for their preference on their time, which dignifies the shoppers. With food mostly provided via The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), customers can select a mix of fresh produce, one meat product, fresh dairy, when available, and non-perishable foods. The store provides a more traditional shopping experience including checkout and baggers, but charges only against a point system based upon households. Volunteer-driven, the fresh market serves 700 or more households a day, but in Summer 2023 it reach 1,000 households a day. While households could shop every day of the week with a fresh amount of points as they need, data indicates households only shop one to two times a month.

In addition to these initiatives, Food Finders offers multiple services including food delivery for seniors who can cook and provides 2600 backpacks in over seventy schools. Volunteers, like those who deliver senior food and help with mobile pantry distribution or staff the market, do the work of filling those backpacks full of food to feed children every weekend. They also offer multiple education services, teaching nutrition and cooking. Their resource coordination program helps people build from their resources and strengths, providing wrap-around services that will help with self-sufficiency. Crites Muller noted that “the needs are as diverse as humankind,” so aid may come in the form of clothing, childcare, transportation, employment assistance, housing and utility assistance and health care help, education and cooking classes, legal and and help with Medicaid, SNAP and TANF applications.

Aware that we are in the midst of a legislative session, Cait Parker, Director of External Relations, asked that citizens contact their legislators to support the upcoming Farm Bill renewal. Originally set to renew in 2023, gridlock in Congress threatened funding. In March it’s about to resurface and national food pantries would like to see Congress prioritize the increasing food need and provide funds for better warehousing, freezing and refrigerating what is donated, which will ensure nonprofits can better serve their local communities. Parker said we should urge Congress to keep up with inflation, and definitely not cut funding. Each bill that measurably dents the need, not just SNAP, TEFAP and the Farm Bill but also the child tax credit, helps ensure bellies don’t run empty, seniors don’t pick between meds and meals, and kids get enough nutrition for proper brain development.


The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, multi-issue organization encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join the LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org or the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, IN Facebook page.