Church-led food pantries prepare for growing season

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Volunteers in the Stephen Talley Memorial Garden where fresh fruits and vegetables are harvested at Light of the World Christian Church. (Photo provided/Light of the World Christian Church)
Volunteers in the Stephen Talley Memorial Garden where fresh fruits and vegetables are harvested at Light of the World Christian Church. (Photo provided/Light of the World Christian Church)

As the spring showers ebb, the growing season brings about a new set of challenges for food insecure families.

Although Indianapolis has food assistance from local pantries, church food drives and community organizations, a change in seasons brings with it a change in need for those who are food insecure.

“It’s not the greatest thing, it’s not that greatest feeling to have to come to the food pantry and we know that, so we try to make our clients — we’re just like family,” TJ Ranft, operations manager of Boulevard Place Food Pantry, said. It’s not just like a stone wall warehouse … we try to make the experience as well as it can be.”

Boulevard Place Food Pantry, which is located at 4202 N. Boulevard Place, is part of the Saint Vincent de Paul Network and focuses on emergency food relief within five zip codes in Indianapolis. The pantry sources food donations, health items, volunteers and additional funding from five Indy-based Catholic parishes, said Matt Hayes, pantry director.

Local first graders and volunteers help load hundreds of pounds of diapers during a drive at St. Thomas school. (Photo provided/Boulevard Place Food Pantry)

“What we really want to do with our clients is have a lot of variety,” Hayes said. “We want them to come into our place and feel like they’re in a small grocery store, and so the donations help that happen, from parishes and individuals and groups; we also have some relationships with some gardens.”

The Broad Ripple farmers market, Riviera and Rocky Ripple garden clubs and SHarP (Shared Harvest Project) provide fresh produce to Boulevard Place Food Pantry during the harvest season. In addition to food donations from Gleaners Food Bank, they receive funding to order from a company in Minnesota for supplemental items such as canned goods, diapers, hygiene products, vitamins and other household essentials, Ranft said.

They send out a list of needed items to its parishes — including Christ the King, Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Luke, St. Joan of Arc and St. Thomas Aquinas — biweekly and usually include things clients need or ask for, such as nonperishables, soap, toilet paper and diapers, Hayes said. These are often more expensive items that SNAP does not cover and having them available makes people’s lives easier, Hayes said.

However, as spring signals the end of the school year, Hayes said Boulevard Place is seeking more staple items such as packaged potatoes, boxed pancake mix, canned stew and soups with meat or protein, medium bags of sugar, breakfast cereals, detergent and men’s and women’s personal items.

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Light of the World Christian Church, which is located at 4646 N. Michigan Road operates a weekly donation-based food pantry with pick up service for food insecure families in the community, Janae Pitts-Murdock, senior pastor, told the Recorder.

The church, which is 157 years old, has served its community with a broad range of programs and ministries — available to members and nonmembers — including its food pantry, emergency assistance, utility assistance and seasonal clothing drives, Pitts-Murdock said.

“The issue of food insecurity in Marion County is so significant that the food banks cannot keep up with the demand,” Pitts-Murdock said. “Even though we are supported by local food banks, it is not enough to meet the need in our community.”

Church volunteers run the pantry, which is stocked with congregation donations, produce from their urban garden and supplemental items from Gleaners. The pantry is open every Monday from 9 a.m. to noon and 6-9 p.m. Families in need can pick up a food box from 6:30-9 p.m. on Mondays.

Light of the World’s food pantry set up inside their facility before box distribution. (Photo provided/Light of the World Christian Church)

Light of the World’s food pantry is always in need of staples to add to food boxes, Pitts-Murdock said. This includes items such as rice, beans, peanut butter, potatoes and canned items. However, Pitts-Murdock said it is important for the church to include a variety of kid-friendly foods, fresh produce that are harder to come by like zucchini and squash, juice boxes, applesauce, bread and cake mix.

In the fall, the church hosts a back-to-school drive and partners with four local schools to supply families with school supplies and give money to parents to help with additional purchases, Pitts-Murdock said. During Thanksgiving and Christmas, the church adds extra or seasonal items to each of the food boxes as well as hosting a toy and winter coat drive.

“At Light of the world, we care about the well-being of the whole person, that people are not just only spiritual beings, but people also have physical, emotional and social needs,” Pitts-Murdock said. “We realize we cannot solve every problem, but we try to be an asset to our communities, realizing that it is part of our tasks to take care of each other.”

The Edna Martin Christian Center, an 83-year-old institution located in Martindale Brightwood, provides programming and services to the community, from early childhood education opportunities to quality-of-life sustaining programming for seniors, said President and CEO Barato Britt.

Britt said the Edna Martin Christian Center operates a food pantry onsite Monday through Friday 1-3 p.m. at 2605 E. 25th St., which receives donations from Midwest Food Bank, Second Helpings and American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

COO Maggie Goeglein said what their pantry is in most need of this season is shelf stable protein sources. Meat is usually hard to come by and with limited cooler and freezer space, they do not keep well.

“Some of our pantry clients are homeless, and they really need things that they can kind of take on the go but finding that source of the protein is always that shelf stable is always something that’s on our wish list for families,” Goeglein said. “We also do quite a bit to try to identify fresh produce and healthier food options because a lot of times shelf stable stuff is not the stuff that we should be eating, or at least shouldn’t be the bulk of our diet.”

The Edna Martin Christian Center is partnering with the Pacers Drive and Dish program for weekly 20 lbs. boxes of fresh produce but hygiene products, diapers and an extra helping hand around the garden and pantry are always a need too, Goeglein added.

Thanks to community partnerships, the Edna Martin Christian Center’s food pantry can send kids home with backpacks with additional supplies in the summer and provide supplemental clothing such as business attire for a job interview or winter clothing for homeless individuals, Goeglein said.

For more information about each food pantry, hours of operation or volunteering call (317) 924-3461 for Boulevard Place Food pantry, visit lovelwcc.org for Light of the World Christian Church or visit ednamartincc.org for the Edna Martin Christian Center.

Contact Arts & Culture Reporter Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.