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Natural Awakenings Indianapolis

‘What’s a Food Pantry?’

Nov 26, 2014 04:35PM ● By Tyler Gough

I once overheard a child pose this question to her mother at a local library as they were dropping off canned items for a food drive. The mother paused for a moment and then said, “A food pantry is a place where everyone is welcome. If people don’t have enough food, they can go to the food pantry and get some. If people have extra food, they can go to the food pantry to drop it off.”

I was struck immediately by the beauty and simplicity of the answer. I use this explanation often at Indy Urban Acres, the eight-acre urban farm I manage in Indianapolis where we sustainably grow, produce and donate all of it to area food pantries. Besides growing healthy food, the farm hosts thousands of kids each year as volunteers or on field trips during which we teach them about food insecurity, food pantries and food banks.

According to the United States Census publication Income and Poverty in the United States: 2013, nearly 50 million Americans live in food-insecure households—16 million of them children. Food insecurity means that one’s ability to secure food on a daily basis is unknown, or put another way, a family is so poor they don’t know how they’re going to put food on the table each day. A food bank is the storehouse for millions of pounds of food and other products that go out to the community, while a food pantry functions as the arms that reach out to that community directly.

The most basic of our obligations as a society is to make sure our children don’t have to go to bed hungry. Sadly and inexplicably, this obvious collective obligation often goes unmet. The multifaceted issues that surround hunger all stem from poverty. People don’t go hungry because of a lack of food—it’s because they don’t have the money for food and the reasons can be varied. Not having a job, being sick or having a sick family member, or lacking transportation are some of the more basic reasons but the list can be extensive.

While the issues of poverty may be complex, the need to feed our entire community, especially our children, is not. As we gather around our Thanksgiving tables this season, we should build upon the spirit of thankfulness. We should be grateful for what we have on our plates, but also think of those who have nothing on theirs.

As a society, the first steps to ending food insecurity, and once and for all boarding up the windows of the community food pantry, is to talk about the issues. Keep the realities of children going to bed hungry at the forefront of our conversations, hearts and ultimately, our actions. The two absolutely most important actions one can take to help those that are food insecure are organizing food drives, and educating our fellow humans that, no matter the circumstance that leaves a family in poverty, no child should have to go a day without a food.

When I think back to that conversation in the library years ago, I’m reminded that we are all welcome at the food pantry. Sometimes it takes a simple conversation with a small child to see that the answer can be both beautiful and simple at the same time.

Tyler Gough is the farm manager of Indy Urban Acres, and the president of the not-for-profit Narrow Gate Gardens, Inc., whose mission is to create and help sustain community gardens to support food pantries.
For more information on Indy Urban Acres, visit or Local area food banks include Gleaners Food Bank, 3737 Waldemere Ave., Indianapolis, visit; Hamilton County Harvest Food Bank, 1605 N. 10th St., Noblesville, visit; and Midwest Food Bank, 6450 Belmont Ave., Indianapolis, visit
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