North Vernon food bank faces rising demand, tighter supplies

By Cecelia Ellis
For The Republic

The staff members at the Jennings County Good Samaritan Food Pantry are skipping Halloween Fun to spend their time getting ready for the extra demands of this year’s Christmas holiday season.

Already a large Christmas tree adorns the front of the Good Samaritan Food Pantry Building at 2250 S.R. 7 in North Vernon.

Inside the sparkling clean building on Wednesday, a crew of staff and volunteers worked to stuff sacks with food to be given away.

Throughout the building, stacks of boxes filled with Christmas decorations wait to be unpacked to spread holiday cheer to people experiencing times of trouble.

This year, supply shortages and COVID together are bringing even more trouble for people in need and the people who are trying to help them.

“We know from previous years that as soon as we get closer to Thanksgiving, the demand for food will increase rapidly, and this year we are going to have to work faster and harder,” said Good Samaritan Food Pantry director Ginger Miller.

During the first year of the international COVID pandemic, staff members and volunteers learned how to work harder and faster to furnish food to people in need.

From January 2020 to December 2020, the food bank served more than 27,000 individual requests for free food.

Food is passed out every Tuesday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The only requirement to receive free food is to show proof of Jennings County residency by showing recent mail received.

“Demand was somewhat down during the first part of 2021, but it is beginning to creep up again, and now we are also experiencing the same supply shortages everybody else is experiencing,” said Miller.

“Last year, we were able to give about 150 lbs. of food to each person, but now, on most days, we only have enough to give 75 lbs. of food, and that is a disappointment for them and for us,” said Miller.

Miller has been working to fill the cupboards of the Good Samaritan Food Bank for more than 18 years now.

She helped start the food bank when it was in the basement of the First Assembly of God Church.

After the first three years of operations, Miller moved the food bank out of the basement and established it as an independent, nonprofit operation.

The Good Samaritan Food Pantry now operates on funds and donations from independent donors, organizations, grants and some government programs.

The food bank receives large shipments of food from Gleaners Food Bank and the Midwest Food Bank, as well as canned food drives and commercial food donations.

Most of the food received from Gleaners and Midwest Foods is free to Good Samaritan, but the food bank must pay money for meat, fish and some fresh produce.

Though the price of meat and fish is cheaper than if it was purchased commercially, prices have goon up for the food banks as they have at local grocery stores.

“All the other food pantries are also facing the problem of higher prices for less selection, just as individuals are finding in the stores. Right now it’s slim pickings for everyone,” Miller said.

Only Miller and five semi-full-time employees and varying numbers of volunteers keep the work at the Good Samaritan Food Bank going.

“People ask me how they can help us, and I usually just tell them to say their own prayer for guidance and when they decide the best way to help, give us a call,” Miller said with a smile.

She added that the food bank always can use volunteers, food and and cash donations.