Forward Indiana is a local grassroots organization that focuses on uniting communities through mutual aid, specifically the sharing of food. Co-founders Carlos Marcano and Sarah Thompson have been involved in their communities in some shape or form for years, so when they saw a rising need for food assistance during the pandemic, they jumped right into action.
In their work, Marcano and Thompson emphasize sustainability through community and mutual aid. A quote from their Facebook page reads:
Marcano hopes that Forward Indiana and similar efforts will reach folks in need who may otherwise fall through the cracks. Some patrons of the community pantries can’t make it to conventional food banks due to limited hours or lack of transportation. Others may be ineligible for state or federal aid programs. Still others may be mistrustful of institutional aid to begin with. Forward Indiana seeks to make it easier for these individuals to access aid without judgement or shame.
What is a food desert?
Marcano originally hails from Hawaii, but has lived in Indiana for about 20 years. Having worked in construction his entire life, he is intimately familiar with the difficulty in balancing convenience, affordability and health.
“Healthy food costs a lot,” Marcano said. “There’s always a gas station around which has convenience food, but not a lot of healthy options.”
What Marcano is describing here is commonly known as a food desert, or a “geographic area where residents’ access to affordable, healthy food options is restricted or nonexistent due to the absence of grocery stores within convenient traveling distance.” According to a 2018 report, almost one-third of the Fort Wayne community live in areas identified as food deserts including the 46802, 46803, and 46806 zip codes.
Statistically, food deserts are more likely to impact BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) than White people. Generations of systemic housing discrimination has led to BIPOC, Black people in particular, being far more likely to live in neighborhoods without easy access to affordable and healthy food. Food insecurity has been linked to several debilitating health issues including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. Food insecurity can also lead to long-lasting developmental and behavioral issues in children.
Bridging Gaps, One Pantry at a Time
Forward Indiana’s first community pantry was put up in front of Fancy & Staple, a gift shop located downtown on Broadway. Since then, they have established 16 community pantries in various locations around town.
In addition to the pantries, Forward Indiana also participates in distributing rescued food to the community, and has hosted donation drives for hygiene and menstrual items. The organization has also begun work on 2 community gardens on the Southside, one on Lillie Street and one on Packard Avenue.
When asked why they started tackling food insecurity specifically, Marcano answered pragmatically: “We had to start somewhere, and food seemed to be the easiest.”
He reasoned that nutrition is key to everything, and that without proper nutrition we are not able to survive, let along grow and thrive. Marcano also sees the need for food as something that bridges differences and connects people. While Marcano agrees that BIPOC are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and increased food insecurity, he sees it as an issue that can transcend race. “There are poor White people in these communities too,” Marcano said.
You can donate to the pantries by following the guidelines on the “Pantry Etiquette” flyer and going to any of the 16 pantries listed. You can also donate directly to Forward Indiana through this link.