Karen and Ben Howells

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Combating food insecurity through positive energy and partnerships

By David Koenn

Karen Howells and her husband of 30 years, Ben, moved to Muncie nearly six years ago in search of a university town equidistant from kids and grandchildren. Karen wasn’t a stranger to Muncie, having spent two years at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. She transferred to Michigan State University, where she earned a bachelor’s in music therapy before raising three children on the apples and squash of the Great Lakes.

The Howells hadn’t lived in East Central Indiana long before they noticed the regions love for “Southern comfort food” and the nutritional implications of the city’s nearly 21,000 people living in poverty. Karen said she felt called to make a difference, and retirement afforded her the time to dedicate herself to promoting healthy choices. In 2015, Karen and Ben helped form Edible Muncie, a nonprofit that strives to eliminate hunger and food insecurity in Muncie and Delaware County.

“I was invited me to participate in a panel discussion about food insecurity because I came from Flint, which has battled and after the talk, several of us decided it was time to quit talking and start doing something about the issues in Muncie,” said Howells, who serves as Edible Muncie’s vice president.

The Howells’ involvement has provided them with a magnifying glass on Muncie’s challenges related to food, which are woven so tightly with poverty, education and health. The organization has provided a list of food pantries and services, such as Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana on its website, EdibleMuncie.org, for people who are experiencing food insecurity.

Edible Muncie has recently held a breakout session at the Local Food Summit in the Ball State Alumni Center on October 25. The session featured guest speakers who discussed solutions for food insecurity, concerns about transportation to get food and finding out ways to improve the concerns of providing healthy food to everyone. The organization also revealed a video posted on YouTube called “Stop Gap: The Distance Between People and the Food They Need” that shows the transportation challenges residents faced who live in one of Muncie’s food deserts.

Edible Muncie partners to assist bus riders

The most immediate issue, Karen said, emerged when three Marsh stores closed in spring 2017, leaving most of Muncie in a food desert, described as a place where residents do not have reliable transportation and you live more than a mile from a grocery store in the city or more than 10 miles from a grocery store in the country.

“So all of Muncie pretty much is in a food desert now,” Karen said. “Most of the remaining grocery stores are in the McGalliard corridor, but keep in mind the busses don’t go all the way out to Meijer, so only Wal-Mart and Aldi service the South side of the city.”

Edible Muncie’s latest project: a collaboration with Muncie Indiana Transit Systems, or MITS, and Wal-Mart to provide carts and insulated bags for people to take on city buses. The grant is focused on the Wal-Mart at the corner of 29th Street and Macedonia Avenue, where residents in several apartments, including Mosier Apartments, Wilson School Apartments and Earth Stone Terrace Apartments, frequent. Howells said the grant is focused on that Wal-Mart because residents from those apartments and other Southside neighborhoods shop there.

“We wrote a grant to purchase foldable utility carts and insulated grocery bags that fold because the bus rule is that you can only carry on what you can carry yourself,” Howells said. “The bus driver can’t come out and help you, but you can put your groceries in the insulated bag, carry it on in the cart, fold up the cart, put it next to you, put the bag on the seat next to you, and it’s out of the aisle way and everything.”

Active, engaged citizens can triumph over Muncie’s challenges

Edible Muncie’s breadth of resources and services certainly help reduce the impact of food insecurity, Karen said, but she stressed that access is not the only, or even the greatest challenge, facing the health and wellness of Muncie and Delaware County.

“I think the greatest challenge is getting people to nutritious food,” she added. “Diets have changed considerably from when I was a kid, and poverty is linked to poor eating, which leads to diabetes and other major health concerns. It’s a web, a cycle we need to break.”

But although challenges persist, Karen remains hopeful — pointing to many engaged citizens and community partnerships that are promoting health and increasing access throughout the region.

“We tend to focus on negative stuff, and I’m constantly trying to turn it around so we focus on the positive,” Howells said. “So letting people know where the pantries are. Letting people know where the mobile farm markets are or the farmer’s markets so that they can get some nutritious food. Working with MITS and LifeStream to see if we can get more services available for people. Letting people know about organizations like Circles where they work on getting people out of poverty and the steps that are needed to do that.

“Muncie has a whole bunch, in fact, more than most places, of nonprofits that are working on helping people,” Howells said. “But we don’t know about them, and so that’s the opportunity that we have to let people know about.”

Cherry Cobbler

“This is from a very old cookbook that I have. A long time ago I wrote ‘good and simple’ which is the kind of recipes I like, and this one is my favorite.” 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of white flour
  • 1 Tablespoon of oleo
  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • ½ cup of milk
  • 1 can of sour cherries

Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine the flour, oleo, ½ cup of sugar, baking powder and milk to make batter. Pour the batter into a 9-inch square pan. In a saucepan, blend the cherries and juice with the remaining sugar and stir on medium heat until bubbly and slightly thickened. Pour hot cherries over the batter. Bake for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serves 9. Enjoy!

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