A Passion for Food Security
One person can make a difference. Efforts to raise awareness and secure food items during the pandemic have prompted city officials to include food security on a list of priorities to be addressed long after the current crisis is over.
When it comes to putting food on the tables of underserved populations in Evansville during the pandemic, one name is always part of the conversation.
Lisa Rhyand Vaughan is a mother of two, married to an emergency room physician, a member of the Junior League and now a leading voice in dealing with food insecurity in the city of Evansville. She even made into Mayor Lloyd Winnecke’s state of the city address earlier this month.
In outlining the five focus areas for reopening the city, the mayor said, “The fifth area of focus is food security. Lisa Vaughan and Alex Burton have been leading this charge. A great deal of work has been done in recent weeks to ensure families don’t go hungry. That work will need to continue into the foreseeable future.”
For the past year and a half, The Junior League has studied food insecurity in Evansville. Since last July, they’ve provided lunches to school children during break times. Vaughn was in charge of that program, which led to a call from Evansville City Council president Alex Burton during the chaotic early days of the pandemic response.
He said, “With school not being in session, we wanted to make sure our kids were being fed. I reached out to Lisa immediately because I knew she and the Junior League had somewhat of a system in place at least to feed the kids.”
Vaughan recalled the conversation that started what is now a sustained effort to address food insecurity in Evansville. “Alex Burton, our city councilman, reached out to me, and said, ‘Hey, is the Junior League still going to do their lunches as planned during spring break, during the shutdown?’ And we absolutely were, and did, we passed out 1,800 lunches that week. It just rolled, the more Alex and I kept talking, into what was needed citywide.”
Speaking at a news conference on May 1, Mayor Winnecke talked about how food security became one measure of the community’s success in reopening following the pandemic.
“With as much good work has been done the past several weeks, it’s clear that there needs to be a sustained effort in this space for a good while and beyond.”
The Feed Evansville Task Force was formed, giving Lisa Vaughan a seat at the table with local, state and federal officials and Vaughan ran with it.
When school kids needed meals during the pandemic, Vaughan battled government red tape to allow the grab and go meals now common during COVID-19 distancing requirements. When high risk residents couldn’t afford to use grocery delivery services, she found a partner with a commercial kitchen, the Pie Pan, on Evansville’s north side and set up a volunteer delivery service. When low income residents needed a way to use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP benefits to pay for the groceries, Vaughan partnered with the Urban Seeds organization, which already had that capability.
I’ve caught up with Vaughan a couple of times at the task force’s distribution center during the shutdown, at the Pie Pan.
From two to three in the afternoon on Mondays, vehicles pull up and are loaded with boxes of food to be delivered to people who can’t, or shouldn’t, be out during the pandemic. Sometimes, they’re assisted by National Guard soldiers from the 163rd Field Artillery in Evansville, and sometimes, it’s just Vaughan, the staff at the Pie Pan and perhaps a journalist inspired by the passion of this group when his work is done.
While the restaurant’s dining room was closed during the pandemic, week after week, a truck from food distributor CRS One Source brought the food and four Pie Pan employees filled boxes to be ready for delivery on Monday afternoon. Reflecting on the effort, Pie Pan employee Alysha Camp struggled with her words a bit, but said they’re not delivering food so much as they’re delivering hope.
“I never thought in my lifetime I would ever live to see anything like this. It’s scary. But the outpouring of encouragement and love that our community has shown, and the programs that have come together to help lift other people up in the community, it’s just…really unspeakable, it speaks volumes on its own.”
Big advances in any community are often driven by the passion of a single person, but it takes a great deal of commitment and motivation. For her inspiration, Lisa Vaughan stands on the shoulders of another strong woman.
Vaughan said, “I think it’s a very hard time. It think it’s stressful for everybody on different levels. I tell the story often, my grandmother grew up during the war, one war, and then she was married during the other and my grandfather went off to war, she had a baby in the living room and then had to go milk the cows that afternoon. If my grandmother can have a baby in the living room that morning, with her mother’s help, and then go out and milk their two cows that afternoon, I can volunteer and feed the city.”
The Pie Pan’s dining room is back open, the COVID-19 curve is flattening and while masks, distancing and hygiene are still critical, government officials are working as quickly as possible to get things back to normal. The massive local effort to feed people during the pandemic will soon become part of the history of how Evansville responded to the crisis.
What about the ongoing issue of food security in Evansville? There has always been a disconnect that some people go hungry in a city that loves food and family and prides itself on caring for our neighbors.
Mayor Winnecke indicated in that May 1 news conference that food security is one issue that will remain a priority after the pandemic is over.
He said, “The governor put forth a great goal of having the state completely open by July Fourth. It’s my belief we’re going to be working in food security area well beyond July Fourth and we need to be prepared to do so.”
That’s music to the ears of Lisa Vaughan and everyone involved with the Feed Evansville Task Force.