February 02, 2023

Indiana pork farmers help feed hungry neighbors

INDIANAPOLIS — For years, Indiana farmers have donated pork to food banks and local feeding programs throughout their state.

But when it comes to knowing how much exactly they have donated, that’s a tough number to figure out.

“We don’t have any idea of how much is donated,” said Jeanette Merritt, director of communications and checkoff programs for Indiana Pork.

Merritt said that many farmers choose to quietly donate to their local food pantry or feeding program.

“We have farmers who are having pigs processed and then they donate that pork to their local food pantry. We have county fairs around the state where the buyers of an animal will donate it to the local food pantry,” she said.

At the Miami County 4-H Fair in July, purchasers of champion livestock donated 24 pigs and one steer to the Macy food pantry and to Miami County Helping Hands, a local food pantry in Peru.

“Those types of donations go on not just in Miami County, but in a lot of counties,” Merritt said.

The donations also go on throughout the year, with some farmers choosing to donate hams at Christmas.

Merritt said that she learns about many of the donations when food pantries call to say thank you. She then tracks down the donation and the farmer to make a record of it and share the positive news.

The farmers themselves rarely call to take credit for their donations.

“Within the ag community, the last thing they do is raise their hand and say, ‘Let me tell you what I did.’ They are a very humble, humble bunch. They just do it,” Merritt said.

Merritt said she expects that donations from farmers to their local feeding programs have increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since COVID, they have seen their neighbors standing in a food pantry line. Their communities have been hit hard, and people who have never before struggled to put food on the table, all of a sudden, they can’t feed their families because of what they were going through for a couple of years,” she said.

“I really think the ag community and our pork farmers around the state have stepped up to try to fill the gap and feed their neighbors where they can.”

In 2005, Indiana Pork, along with Feeding Indiana’s Hungry and the Indiana Soybean Alliance, started the Million Meals Program.

The goal of the campaign is simple — and lofty: Provide one million meals a year to Indiana’s hungry.

Donations to the Million Meals Program tend to take the form of cash, so food banks can purchase pork, Merritt said.

“Indiana Pork donates money to the program. We have a lot of farmers and companies who donate money, as well. Then Feeding Indiana’s Hungry can buy ground pork and supply it to the 11 Indiana food banks,” Merritt said.

The money donations from Indiana Pork are stipulated for the purchase of ground pork.

“They have purchased pork in two-pound packages. We say a pound of pork will feed four people, so that will be eight meals in that one package of ground pork,” Merritt said.

It’s not just pork that Indiana Pork is adding to local food pantry shelves. Many smaller pantries may lack adequate freezer space to store larger quantities of frozen ground pork for any length of time, so Indiana Pork launched a program in 2019 to help on the storage side.

“We worked to help supply freezers to some food pantries around the state. We worked on a grant program to get them some storage. They were getting the protein, but they needed a way to store it so they could get it out to their clients,” Merritt said.

Merritt said that the donations of ground pork to the 11 regional Feeding Indiana’s Hungry food banks has had to include a side of education.

“It is a little bit of a learning curve for some of them and we ask them to tell their clients that ground pork substitutes for other ground protein,” Merritt said.

Jeannine Otto

Jeannine Otto

Field Editor