Walk into the Boys & Girls Clubs of Elkhart County’s Middlebury Clubhouse on Friday afternoons during the summer and you’ll see bags of frozen meals ready for families to take home for the weekend.
It’s part of a new partnership with Cultivate Culinary Food Network. The non-profit group freezes food prepared by area businesses so it can be distributed to area families.
“We normally partner with schools during the school year so the kids have meals over the weekend. In the summer, it’s unique because kids aren’t in school, but we typically try to target Boys & Girls Clubs and other summer programs,” said Lainie Holland, Cultivate’s director of planning and programming.
The group serves Elkhart, St. Joseph and Marshall counties. It wanted to establish a bigger presence in Elkhart County so they met with the Boys & Girls Clubs team to launch the new partnership.
“Our funding is for the full year so we wanted to come up with creative ways to reach kids all year long and during the summer there is a need. Boys & Girls Clubs of Elkhart County has a lot of kids in summer programs so this seemed like a great fit,” Holland said.
Middlebury Area Director Erin McNeal agrees it’s a great fit and jumped at the chance to offer the meals to her members.
“It seems like a great opportunity to provide something for the families we serve. We also have volunteers who wanted to get involved so we wanted to provide this service for them,” McNeal said.
Cultivate delivers bags of frozen meals. Each bag contains six meals which are handed out to families as they leave the Club for the weekend.
“It’s cost free to us and our families and they have been excited to see this offered to them,” McNeal said.
In addition to the frozen meals, Holland said Cultivate also has a food pantry network that is providing bulk supplies to Middlebury, Goshen and Elkhart Clubs.
“We area able to use those supplies here at the Club — things like bananas, cheese and bread — that we can use in our kitchen to prepare meals for the members while they’re here,” McNeal said.
Holland said food rescue is a newer concept and there are not a lot of organizations doing it.
“We’re fortunate that we have places like Notre Dame, Century Center and large restaurants which are partnering with us,” she said.
Many of those organizations prep food for events, but it ends up not being used.
“If they have food that does not leave the kitchen but is prepared, we can bring it back to our facilities. We have chefs and volunteers who help transform the food into frozen meals. It all contains a protein, starch and vegetable,” Holland said. “It’s high quality food from some of the top chefs in the area that would otherwise go to waste if we didn’t rescue it.”
Holland said 40% of the food supply in the United States goes to waste while a high percentage of people in the local community is food insecure. Cultivate is working to change that.
“We really focus on the nutritional value of the meals. A lot of times food insecure families only have access to certain kinds of food. These are not only meals that taste good but their good for you,” she said.
The families in Middlebury who have tried the meals agree. Most were eager to come back for more meals after getting to try them.
Cultivate hopes the partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs continues beyond the summer.
“We’re trying it this summer and hoping to continue into the fall as well. We don’t have a school partner in Middlebury right now so there may be opportunities for us to continue this into the fall,” she said.