GARRETT, Ind. (WANE) – Food pantries in DeKalb County are grappling with a huge loss. They’ve lost their biggest supplier, the Walmart Distribution Center in Garrett.
The donation partner used give the food pantries free meat, produce and dairy products. Then on January 1, 2020, Walmart changed its food distribution model as far as donations are concerned. The retail giant wanted better oversight over the safe handling of their donations and wanted to centralize who receives them.
Now, the corporation only gives donations to Feeding America food banks and member agencies. That includes the Community Harvest Food Bank in Fort Wayne.
This situation leaves the DeKalb County food pantries that once got free food from Walmart having to pay to receive them from Community Harvest.
Non-profits such as Community Care Food Pantry in Garrett and SonShine Ministries in Auburn both said they don’t have the money in their budgets to pay Community Harvest. They’re unable to make up for the food they were once able to give out.
“I felt overwhelmed and I still do,” said Randy Ball, director of Community Care Food Pantry. “That’s still overwhelming to me to see the community suffering the way that it is. As of right now, we’re not sure what’s happening. We’re still reeling from losing our meat supply plus our produce supplies.”
Ball said they used to give a family about 80 pounds of donated food per visit, but since they loss Walmart as a donation partner they only give families about 20 pounds.
Renee Florin, executive director of SonShine Ministries, said about 90 percent of their donated food items came from the Walmart Distribution Center. She’s figuring out answers to difficult questions.
“I’m faced with a decision of how can I afford to buy more food,” she explained. “Do I shut down the food pantry? Do I eliminate people being able to come twice a month and limit them to just once a month? Where can I find more food product from?”
She’s considering getting government aid from the United States Department of Agriculture, but says it won’t even be closing to making up the gap Walmart has left.
Community Harvest Executive President Carmen Cumberland said they believe their product and delivery costs are reasonable. Right now, they’re charging 19 cents per pound of food. They have to charge because running their operation comes with costs such as paying their staff and maintaining certifications for the organization. They also charge a $25 delivery fee.
Cumberland feels for the DeKalb County food pantries and is thinking of ways to ease their situation.
“This wasn’t an intent to them solely,” she said. “This was across the nation. Walmart wanted to ensure that their brand product was being handled properly. They wanted one location to be able to handle this. Ultimately, all of us are trying to do the same thing. We’re just trying to feed hungry people.”
The various parties are considering different solutions to the problem.
Community Harvest is thinking of lowering or dropping the delivery fee. The DeKalb county pantries are thinking of creating a centralized hub or board in their county for all of them to operate out of, which would help them greatly reduce their costs. They may even create a hub for the four county area that includes DeKalb, Noble, Steuben, and LaGrange Counties.
Overall, conversations between all involved parties is in early stages. Many discussions are happening about what should and can be done.