The Art of Giving


Madeline Phuong, Writer

Thanksgiving — a holiday rooted in the Wampanoag tribe’s legendary generosity when welcoming Plymouth settlers with a feast, spurring the annual day of appreciation marked by a classic dinner of turkey, mashed potatoes, and family food staples. Nonprofit charitable organizations like Community Harvest Food Bank make these Thanksgiving holiday dinners and countless others possible for Hoosiers in nine northeastern Indiana counties by providing donated food and other resources.

Founded 37 years ago after truck assembly plant International Harvester shut down, Community Harvest initially aimed to support the thousands unemployed by giving out 10 tons of food that year. Now, Community Harvest provides over 6,900 tons of food annually, supplying hundreds of member agencies like soup kitchens, food pantries, youth programs, and homeless shelters. With its purchasing power, Community Harvest can use $1 of funding to feed a family of four with an equivalent purchase of $9 in groceries. According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap, there are currently over one million food insecure Hoosiers. Over 50% of Indiana’s food insecure population does not qualify for federal hunger relief assistance.

“We used to see about 500 families on average, and it was through a walk-through process. Now we have seen, on any given weekend, up to 1300 cars in a 3 1⁄2-hour period,” Community Harvest Executive President Carmen Cumberland said in a WOWO interview. “(This rise in demand is way higher due to the pandemic) and people being out of work. We’ve seen a lot of people who have never had to utilize our services before.”
With its growth to meet the needs of thousands, Community Harvest also leads the way in preserving fresh produce and supporting healthier lifestyles. In 2015, it introduced a produce storage facility with a blanching, chilling, and freezing process, establishing itself as the first United States regional food bank to do so. This revolutionary storage process allows one-third of food distribution to be composed of fresh produce.
Just as generous donations and modern storage enable Community Harvest to service its hundreds of member agencies and in-house food programs, so do the 7,700 volunteers who dedicate time to stock pantry shelves and distribute food. In past years, these volunteers have logged over 44,000 hours of service — that’s over five years’ worth of work!
“In the beginning (of the pandemic), we lost volunteers and staff. We are definitely needing volunteers,” Cumberland said.

“On Saturday mornings, it takes about 50 (volunteers) to hand out the food and do traffic control. We’re doing everything in a safe manner, and we have been seeing groups come back with a smile on their faces, which is always nice.”

To continue servicing over 85,000 Hoosiers per year during the COVID-19 pandemic, Community Harvest has made some major adjustments, implementing safety guidelines like proper social distancing and mask wearing. Changes were also made to events like food drives. This year, Community Harvest is holding a Lincoln Financial Group 2020 Virtual Holiday Food Drive to supply much needed Thanksgiving and holiday dinners in the upcoming weeks. Donations can securely be made online at, with $10 providing holiday sides, $20 providing a turkey and $30 providing a full holiday meal for a family of six.
“This time of year, we really need shelf-stable items (like) canned meat, canned fruit, canned vegetables, soups, ready to eat meals and can openers,” Cumberland said.

For the past six years, Homestead’s Key Club has held an annual holiday canned food drive for Community Harvest, and has also encouraged club members to volunteer at the food bank.
“We collect cans every year as a way for students to earn hours. We deliver them at the end of the year,” Key Club sponsor Kimberly Crawford said.
This year, Key Club continues to provide its members with local volunteer opportunities, including at Community Harvest. Key Club members have logged hundreds of hours each year, with some members electing to volunteer at Community Harvest or donate to the Homestead canned food drive for individual hours.
Key Club member Katelyn Tilbury (10) volunteered 35 hours her freshman year, and plans to continue volunteering at the food bank this school year. Last year, she helped package and give food to individuals. More recently, with adjusted protocols for the pandemic, she helps with the food bank’s drive-through.

“My eighth grade skills teacher, Mr. Wilson, recommended Community Harvest as one of the many ways to serve the community,” Tilbury said on why she began volunteering there. “My favorite part of the volunteer(ing) is seeing everyone smile and talk with each other.”