An average of 250 families filter through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Indianapolis Archdiocesan Council’s food pantry per hour on a typical Thursday evening.
The food pantry is open 18 hours per calendar week and serves approximately 3,653 families from Marion and surrounding donut counties, said Paul Ainslie, president of the Indianapolis Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Although its Martindale-Brightwood location at 3001 E. 30th St. has only been operational since 2006, Ainslie said they have been serving the Indianapolis community since the 1970s.
“It’s an immediate need that people have, and you know, when you’re hungry, not much else goes well in your life,” Ainslie said. “So, that’s an immediate need to be recognized, and we need to address that. So, yes, it’s the right thing to do, but it’s not the only thing to do.”
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) is an international Catholic lay organization established in 1833. Although maintaining a food pantry is common for SVdPs across the nation, Ainslie said not every location has one.
The organization is separate from the church, and Ainslie said they do not judge anyone who comes through their doors in need of help. However, the primary goal of each establishment is inspired by meeting the needs of their neighbors and by Gospel values, according to the organization’s website.
Beyond a no weapons policy, Ainslie said there are very few barriers for anyone who seeks out SVdP for a little extra help putting dinner on the table. However, the pantry is part of the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which means families must meet certain income requirements set by the state of Indiana and can only shop once during a calendar week.
Indiana’s financial eligibility requirements for TEFAP food from agencies such as SVdP are set at 185% of the Federal poverty level. A breakdown by family size can be found at uwc.211ct.org/federal-poverty-levels-4115-33116/.
“We aren’t here to do much else other than solve some of their hunger issues and other issues too,” Ainslie said. “Our goal is to help people.”
SVdP is a proud choice pantry, which means families can come in, grab a shopping cart and pick out one of each of the foods they want or need for the week or sign up for home delivery. Up front, behind the intake and waiting area, St. Vincent de Paul has an area dedicated to diapers provided by the Indiana Diaper Bank. Families can pick up 25 diapers per month.
The Pratt-Quigley building, where the pantry is located, is 85,000 square feet with large coolers, freezers and storage rooms stocked with deliveries either being sorted, waiting to be sorted, packaged for home deliveries or waiting to go out onto the shopping floor.
Approximately 400 volunteers and volunteer groups, such as Ascension Health and Liberty Mutual, help operations go smoothly each week, and the pantry employs a handful of paid workers and security guards to direct traffic and help people cross the street.
Food comes from just about everywhere, Ainslie said. Approximately 20 local suppliers, such as Gleaners, Kroger, Second Helpings and Midwest Food Bank, keep the shelves stocked with USDA meats, dairy products, eggs, bread, fresh vegetables and fruit and non-perishable items. They even have vegetarian and vegan options for those who need it.
“Frankly, since really the pandemic, there has been more than enough food, for the most part,” Ainslie said. “We’re limited in some areas, but other than eggs and beef, pretty much we have lots of stuff, and we’re a food pantry, our job is to give it away.”
But not everything is as easy to come by. For example, eggs are expensive and scarce due to the avian flu, Ainslie said. Beef and fish are also a bit tricky to get sometimes.
However, the food drives they host through Catholic schools and online and the donations they receive can help them obtain these items. And the donations they receive go a long way: According to the SVdP 2022 impact report, “for every $1 donated to the food pantry, $17 in food is given to a neighbor in need.”
“To be realistic, however, we can buy more with one dollar bill than you can buy for us with the dollar bill,” Ainslie said. “So, the money goes much farther because of our volume. As happy as we are to have food drives and things like that, dollar money donations actually stretch the food budget farther.”
The food pantry may have been born out of need, but Ainslie said the organization strives to go beyond just that. He said, when necessary, they help with things like utilities and rent, household goods, furniture and appliances for those who need it. They are also currently working on a Transitional Housing Center for unsheltered people, which will open in June on the southeast side of town.
“We do more than just food,” he said. “We try to look at the individual and understand the full breadth of their needs … So, the catchline that goes back to 1835 is, ‘There’s no form of charity that’s foreign to the society.’”
The Gennesaret Free Medical Clinic also partners with the pantry six days a week and holds a women’s clinic on Wednesdays at the pantry. No appointments are necessary, just visit gennesaret.org or call 317-955-0217 ext.4 for availability.
Society of St. Vincent de Paul Indianapolis Archdiocesan Council’s food pantry is open Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings from 8 a.m. to noon, Thursday evenings 5-7 p.m., and Friday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon. For more information about the pantry or Gennesaret Free Medical Clinic, visit svdpindy.org.
Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.