Food insecurity is one of the leading public health challenges in Indiana, and it is especially prevalent in Monroe County. According to the annual Map the Meal Gap study presented by Feeding America, the percentage of people who need food assistance in Monroe County has steadily grown. In 2010, 15.9% of residents suffered from food insecurity, but that number grew to 17.9% in 2012.

Among the local organizations helping to combat this problem is Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard. Since its establishment in 1998, MHC has grown from a mere food pantry into a complete food resource center for the community.

MHC President and CEO Amanda Nickey explained their mission: “We are working to increase access to healthy, fresh food for anyone who needs it. And we work to do those things in ways that help people keep their dignity and in ways that encourage self-sufficiency and self-reliance and build community.”

Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard works to fulfill this mission through several different ways, including their food pantry, community gardens, educational classes and a tool share program. The food pantry is at the core of Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard’s mission.

At the pantry, in an effort to help empower and respect their patrons, they operate on Patron’s Choice and the honor system. The way Patron’s Choice works is that the pantry is set up like a grocery store and patrons go through and pick the things they need. No one tells them what they have to take, and this way MHC reduces waste. The honor system means that MHC doesn’t check IDs, proof of income, etc. If someone says they need assistance, they can use the food pantry.

“One of my favorite things to do is answer the phone and have someone call and say ‘I need to use the food pantry, but I don’t know what to bring.’ And you get to tell them ‘Oh, you don’t have to bring anything.’ And you can feel the sense of relief,” Nickey said.

Another large part of the organization is its community gardens. “Everyone who comes to the food pantry experiences the community garden,” she said. “These patrons are either receiving the produce that’s coming from the garden in the pantry or they’re going and harvesting it themselves. Last year we grew about 3,400 pounds of produce in our gardens total.”

Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard has one onsite garden and three offsite gardens in the community. One of the offsite gardens is located in the largest Section 8 housing neighborhood in Monroe County, Crestmont. The Crestmont garden is open for community members to harvest anytime they want, and MHC encourages community members to help tend to it. Nickey says there are a lot of people in that neighborhood who are homebound or have disabilities and can’t get down to the garden, so they have a bike cart MHC workers use to deliver produce to anyone who wants it.

In collaboration with the food pantry and gardens, MHC offers a variety of educational opportunities including nutrition and gardening education programs as well as cooking classes ranging from food preservation to bread- and pie-making. The classes are all very hands on and ingredients and instructional pamphlets are provided.

The tool share program is their newest program, and as far as Nickey has heard “it’s the only one of its kind in the country.” Patrons sign up much like they would at a public library and they can check out cooking and gardening tools. MHC offers things like food dehydrators, canning equipment, shovels, a tiller and a variety of other tools. Since its creation last year, 95 people have signed up and they’ve had over 300 loans.

Monroe County still has a long way to go in decreasing the percentage of people who suffer from food insecurity. But through MHC’s gardening and nutrition education, as well as their emergency food services, they hope to help the long-term sustainability in the community.

To help, donate or volunteer at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard or call 812.355.6843. They are located at 1100 W. Allen, Ste. A, Bloomington.

Bloomington kids volunteering their time MHC bread making

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