(Article originally written by Dave Pearce/The Posey County News.)
Posey County’s Partners in Food held its annual appreciation dinner Sunday evening at the Zion-Lippe United Church of Christ. Well over 100 were on hand to hear the latest of what this generous group has done and what’s in the works for next year.
Posey County’s Partners in Food program began in 2005 and continues to see growth in its 15th year of providing protein to local food pantries and shelters. The four individuals who started the program happen to not only to be farmers but also friends who are also united by their faith, including Carl Schmitz, Albert Schmitz, Marvin Redman, and Jim Droege. These men are passionate about providing protein for the population that needs assistance in our local community. Through the Partners in Food program they’ve partnered with area sponsors and producers, as well as pantries and shelters, and continue to come through in a tremendous to nourish those in need who might otherwise go without.
More than a decade ago the four gentlemen came together after participating in a program called Friendship Acre had dissolved. “We all attend the Zion Lippe United Church of Christ and had been involved in a service program as producers. The program, called Friendship Acre, had its genesis early on after WWII where items were gathered and shipped to Europe. When that initiative came to an end we picked up the concept and tweaked it to focus on providing meat as we knew that was something the pantries rarely received,” said Droege. “We came together with an idea that provided a vehicle by which we could respond to a need, but the community has driven it forward.”
The program model essentially pairs a sponsor with a producer who pledges the gross proceeds of one acre less the amount of the sponsorship to the program. The sponsorships, in the amount of $250, come from individuals, businesses, and other groups or organizations. The funds are used to purchase cattle and hogs, which are processed and packaged for delivery to area pantries and shelters. Dewig Meats of Haubstadt and Kenny Dewig Meats of Owensville are the primary processors for the ground pork and ground beef.
With just a handful of sponsors in the first year, the program has seen unbelievable growth over the years since its inception. In 2019 the program processed 41 head of beef and 185 hogs resulting in the donation of 17,355 pounds of ground beef and 21,465 of ground pork. This year there are more than 70 producers involved from all over the county. The program delivers meat and other produce to the local community food pantries as well as the pantries at area churches and shelters, including St. Peter’s United Church of Christ, Salem Heusler Church, Mount Vernon Food Pantry, and the New Harmony Food Pantry among others. “Protein is an essential nutrient, and the nice thing about meat is that there are a multitude of ways to prepare and utilize it,” said Droege.
While they are only volunteers, they and others involved with the organization go out of their way to assist in any way they can. On one occasion there was a refrigerator that went out in a processing facility in Vincennes and they heard through a connection that the product may be lost so the men drove out to pick up 2,000 pounds of franks and store them for later use. This year, when the group heard that Priceless Foods was closing their store in Evansville, contact was made with the store owners and the organization procured over 7,250 canned goods. If they learn about a need they will try to fill it. Beyond providing meat the organization has also provided produce. Droege recalls when one pantry ran out of canned vegetables, and the following Monday Carl, Albert and Marvin picked up 2,200 cans of green beans to deliver. Last year, 900 pounds of fresh peaches became available for distribution and this all-volunteer organization jumped on it right away.
Each year the program hosts this dinner the Sunday following the Super Bowl to bring the sponsors, producers, volunteers and pantry and shelter representatives together to celebrate and share the impact of the program for the previous year.
“There are all of these pieces to the puzzle and this is a time for us all to come together and see the bigger picture,” said Droege who prepares the report to share at the annual event. “We have a tremendous appreciation for those who provide the sponsorships for this program and are overwhelmed by the willingness of producers to participate. It is truly heartwarming. There are a lot of good people in our community,” said Droege.
Droege feels strongly that three key factors that have contributed to the program’s success. First, everything stays local. Second, they try to be as open and transparent as they can with the program and report on its impact. Finally, they operate on a fully volunteer basis and believe donors have a higher level of satisfaction knowing their contribution goes directly to the cause. The volunteer-driven organization is proud to operate with no overhead. Of course the state of the local economy has a bearing on the demand, and when there is a downturn there is greater need. “While we’d love to think about a time when there would be no need, realistically there will always be a need,” said Droege. “The circumstances that people find themselves in always has a bearing on our food pantries and the demand. The local pantries and other service organizations attempt to meet the needs as best they can with the resources they have.”
At the root of their call to serve the group of faithful farmers refers to the Bible in Leviticus, chapter 19, verse 10, which says, “Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger.” Recalling the verse, Droege said, “As part of the human family I think we’re all responsible to help care for all in the best way we know how. For each of us, this program, along with our commitment to the church and our faith, embodies the idea that we cannot be a world unto ourselves, but that we live in a broader community and the viability of that community depends on us lending a helping hand however we are able. This is just one small way to hopefully offer something meaningful that has a positive impact.”
With steady growth over the years the group hopes to see that growth continues and invites others to come on board to help carry this program forward. “We thought we could have a modest program to offer some level of assistance to pantries, but had no idea it would grow to this level. It’s bigger than any of us anticipated and we’re so grateful. This entire program is volunteer-run, and none of us are spring chickens anymore,” Droege said with a chuckle. “We want to see the program continue after we age out of it and hope to see younger members of our community take the opportunity to lead this initiative in the future.”
It’s likely that the program has inspired other similar programs as Carl Schmitz served on the National Dairy Board and often received questions about Partners in Food. His ice cream has made its way into many causes throughout Posey County.
Those interested in participating in the Partners in Food program as a sponsor, producer or volunteer to provide nourishment for our community’s most needy are encouraged to contact Jim Droege at email@example.com.
All totaled, in its 15 years of existence, the group has made sure that over half a million pounds of food have found their way to needy people in the area.
“As long as there is a need and you people will continue to help meet it, we will continue to do it,” Droege concluded.