Ind. food pantries struggle without federal grant

By The Associated Press

EVANSVILLE — Some of southwestern Indiana’s food banks are facing tough times following the loss of federal grant money they had received for years.

Emily Baxter, the United Way of Southwestern Indiana’s community impact manager, said the National Emergency Food and Shelter Program Board changed the threshold of poverty and unemployment to make sure the counties needing it most received the funding.

Only counties with 300 or more unemployed people, 11.5 percent unemployment rates and 14.5 percent poverty rates received grants this year.

Jasper-based Tri-Cap, which serves Dubois, Pike and Warrick counties, receives some of the grant funding to help struggling families pay rent and utilities.

“We don’t know how much funding we’re going to get yet this year,” Joyce Fleck, executive director, said. “We think we’re going to get something, but we don’t know how much.”

Fleck said she is about 80 percent sure at least some of the grant funding will find its way to Tri-Cap. Though the funding helps, the organization does not depend on it because the amount it receives is small.

“We’re talking less than a couple thousand dollars,” she said. “It’s not enough to even really budget for, so it’s not going to have a big impact on our agency. It’s just enough that we appreciate what we get, but it’s not something that’s going to make or break us here.”

The United Way received a grant last year of a little more than $100,000 for Vanderburgh County. That money was divided among 10 Evansville-area organizations for use in providing emergency rent assistance, food and other help. Nearly half of the annual grant has typically gone to the Emergency Food Pantry System.

“We were hoping to get close to that this year. That’s a big amount — to go from $100,000 to zero,” Emily Baxter, the United Way’s community impact manager, told the Evansville Courier & Press.

Without the grant, funding for the Evansville Emergency Food Pantry System has nearly dried up months ahead of its usual fall crunch time, said Grant Hartman, chairman of the committee overseeing the consortium of seven local food pantries.

The group usually spends $8,000 to $9,000 a month to order food for the pantries but had only about $3,000 left in its treasury last week, he said.

“Usually we don’t start running short until October,” Hartman said.

Twenty-six Indiana counties and the City of Gary received grants totaling about $1.1 million for 2011. Nearly $500,000 was set aside for a state committee to award to the remaining 66 counties, but Baxter said Vanderburgh County hasn’t received any of that money.

• Staff Writer Alexandra Sondeen contributed to this report.

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