A Day at the Food Bank to See USDA’s Farmers to Families Boxes

Thirty-two million food boxes have been delivered as part of USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program, as of July 7. The program has the department partnering with farmers, growers, distributors and non-profit organizations to ensure Americans have access to food during the pandemic. 

The Food Bank of Northern Indiana, located in South Bend, Ind., shows how the program is making a difference in people’s lives. 

There’s a long line in front of the food bank as people in need come with their cars and their bikes to get food for their families. 

“My fridge is pretty empty right now,” says Jenny Golubski from Lakeville, Ind. “I got two kids, so it’s going to help me a lot.” 

“Well, we always need food at home,” says northern Indiana resident Milton Willis. 

It’s a winding string of cars now, receiving pre-boxed and pre-bagged food because of the COVID-19 pandemic – and a line that’s only been getting longer. 

“Our on-site pantry, which is the largest in our six-county network, has seen a 300% increase since the beginning of the year,” says Marijo Martinec, the CEO and executive director of the Food Bank of Northern Indiana.  

Luckily, this food bank, along with many others, is getting extra help during a time that's been difficult for many people financially. 

The pantry is receiving the Farmers to Families Food Boxes from USDA. The boxes are part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service plans to buy up to $3 billion dollars in fresh produce, dairy and meat. The boxes will be provided to hungry families through the end of August, unless the department decides to extend it. 

 “The Farmers to Families Food Box Program was developed using funding provided under emergency declaration,” according to a USDA spokesperson with the Agricultural Marketing Service who spoke to AgDay. “USDA is continuing to explore options to continue serving American farmers and families up to the program’s $3 billion authorization or until the emergency declaration ends. However, other AMS purchase programs outside of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program are available and will continue to be utilized to support American farmers and families.” 

There are three Farmers to Families boxes at the Northern Indiana pantry. One is a box of dairy, another is a box of meat and the third is a box of fresh produce. While not part of the box program, people who arrive receive some grain and frozen eggs at this location in Indiana. 

Martinec says the food bank has distributed over 350,000 pounds of food through the Farmers to Families Program within the last month. This particular day, the pantry served 592 households. 

“We get some very nice emails and phone calls,” says Martinec. “I mean, they can make you cry. People are really grateful for them.” 

She says the fresh products have been “wonderful.” 

“Oftentimes when you go to a food pantry, you’re not going to get milk,” says Martinec. “You’re not going to get cream cheese or sour cream.” 

As COVID-impacted people look for help, a hand up starts with their fridge. 

“[My fridge] is empty 90% of the time,” says Bradley Kring, a retired resident of South Bend, Ind. “[This will be a] big help.” 

It is fresh food delivered from the farm to clusters of cars.  

“I received [the boxes] in the past,” says northern Indiana resident Jose Medrano. “I have two daughters, one that has autism. They like the fruits and all of that and the vegetables because it’s good for them. Yeah, this is a blessing.” 

Martinec says luckily the food bank has enough storage to take perishable products. She says not all pantries can handle those types of items. Many can only accept dry goods.