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Central Indiana food pantries see spike in need; new program offers free produce

The rising cost of groceries, gas, housing and utilities is hitting people hard — even those who never had to use a food pantry before.

INDIANAPOLIS — The need for food this summer continues to grow for Hoosier families.

Shipments of food at Midwest Food Bank Indiana are more essential than ever. They supply 300 agencies statewide and say the need is up 25% in the last few weeks.

The rising cost of groceries, gas, housing and utilities is hitting people hard — even those who never had to use a food pantry before.

"Folks that were already experiencing some challenges securing food, that is an even bigger issue for them and some others are adding pantry visits, so there are some Hoosiers, that for the first time, they're trying to connect to these resources," explained Marcie Luhigo, executive director of Midwest Food Bank Indiana.

"A lot of times we are seeing that families are having to decide between getting to work and being able to feed their families," added Tikilia Tinker-Martin, food equity and community engagement coordinator for the Indianapolis Office of Public Health and Safety.

It's not just increased demand. Supply chain is still a challenge.

So when grocery stores aren't getting as much product as they used to, food donations they used to make get smaller for food pantries.

RELATED: Find a food pantry near you

Prices are up for food banks, too, from food to transportation.

"It's really common for us to fill a semi per day, and here at Midwest that's costing us an extra $500 per semi," Luhigo said. "Also, we really try to connect to nutritious food like proteins and all of those have gone up in cost as well."

The charity says people have stepped up with generosity to help.

They're now counting on more donations, they're trying to source more food, and they're also starting pop-up distributions including a pilot program, partnering with the city and Indy Parks this summer to send fresh produce out to neighborhood pools.

"Today we have romaine lettuce and we have some fresh strawberries that look absolutely amazing. We have raspberries and cauliflower," Tinker-Martin pointed out. "You don't have to have a car. If you're at this pool? Come and get it."

RELATED: Groceries are up almost 12%. Here's how to save money at the store

The produce is available for anyone Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons at Willard, Douglass and, soon, Bethel Park pools.

Organizers say it's important to meet the need by meeting kids and families right where they are. Those families say it makes a difference.

"It does make a difference, especially to people who might not have it right now," said MJ, who picked up some fresh fruit Wednesday. "It means I don't have to go to the grocery store for my grandmother, get her some strawberries. Now she already has strawberries."

Credit: WTHR

"It's all for my daughter, to be real," said Alex Barlow, who filled up two bags with produce. "We got some strawberries. I think that's salad. We got cilantro, cauliflower. You know, we don't get paid until tomorrow, so this will help. It's gonna help people with how high prices are right now with gas, with anything in the store. I think it's gonna help a lot of people actually."

MORE: Inflation causes food insecurity to soar

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