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Hungry to Serve

Written by Mike Siroky. Posted in Community News, Featured

Published on June 13, 2012 with No Comments

Food Bank of Northwest Indiana Celebrates 30 Years of Giving

It turns out life can be a carnival.

The Food Bank of Northwest Indiana celebrated 30 years of ensuring that everyone in Lake and Porter counties gets enough to eat with a carnival at the County Line Orchard in Hobart on Saturday, June 9.

Megan Sikes, communication/advocacy manager for the food bank, said, “We thought about the 30-year anniversary and, naturally, the first idea was to have a fancy dress-up ball.”

But then the folks at the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana said it was more important to focus on the families they serve.  They wanted the party to have a family atmosphere. 

The big barn at the County Line Orchard was perfect. It was decked out like a carnival tent, with red and white streamers.

“We invited some of the children from our Backpack and Kid’s Cafe programs to the party as a fun event for them, but also to give our donors and other guests a chance to meet some of the kids who are directly benefited by their donations,” Sikes said. “We had more than 400 people register for the event.”

They had a grand time.

With old-style posters as a backdrop, there was plenty of food and games of chance for everyone. You could shoot a basketball or show how hard you could throw a baseball. There was a ring toss. Every game had tickets as prizes and those tickets could be redeemed for chocolate treats.

A caricature artist interpreted anyone who stepped up. There were face painters. A musician conjured up oohs and aahs and a local acoustic group provided music.

About halfway through the night, the big announcement of the year was revealed, as is customary at such an event.  This time, it was a display of an artist’s rendering of a proposed permanent home for the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana.

“We are starting a capital campaign for a new building,” Sikes said.  After years of constantly moving into bigger and better digs, repurposing older buildings, the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana will now construct its own home.

One fact runs through the work of the group.

When the recession started more than three years ago, requests for an assist jumped 74 percent. Though it has leveled off at the mark, it shows the work is necessary.

“We have served more than 40 million pounds of food,” Sikes said.

Last year alone, the Food Bank distributed more than 5.1 million pounds of food to those in need in Lake and Porter counties.

The Food Bank is commonly confused with food pantries. It is not a food pantry.

“The difference is that we do not give food to people directly from our facility,” Sikes said.

“We have more than 100 pantries, soup kitchens and after-school programs partnered with us and we distribute the food to them. Then they distribute the food to individuals in need. We are like a Sam’s Club or Costco for pantries. Because we have the warehousing capacity, we are able to purchase in bulk as well as store large donations that our pantries wouldn’t normally have the space for,” she explained.  “We get the food for them and then distribute it so that they don’t have to worry about trying to cut coupons or figure out how they are going to keep their shelves stocked.”

They do have a few programs where they distribute directly to people, such as the Backpack and Pantry on the Go programs, Sikes said.

The Backpack program is where we pack a box full of food that students can take home over the weekend when they don’t have access to the school breakfast and lunch program. Pantry on the Go is where we take our truck out to different locations around the area and set up a temporary pantry for a few hours,” she said.

The network is growing.

“Through our network of food pantries and soup kitchens we serve more than 5,000 people a week,” Sikes said.

“According to Feeding America’s Map, the Meal Gap 2012 study (Feeding America is our national organization) more than 108,000 people are going hungry at some time during the year in Lake and Porter counties. That’s 16.5 percent of the people in our two counties. More than 35,000 children (20.8 percent) are going hungry at some point during the year.”

They focus on children, working through schools during the academic year. This makes the summers more of a challenge.

“More than 56,000 children are enrolled in the free and reduced breakfast and lunch program in our two counties,” Sikes said.  Donations of food or funds are always welcome as are volunteers.

 “If you become a Hunger Advocate, you help us spread the word about hunger in the area and what people can do to help fight it,” she said. “You don’t have to give a lot of money to make a big impact; $1 is enough for us to provide five meals. And $5 will feed a child for a whole weekend through our Backpack Program.”

 The Food Bank of Northwest Indiana is located at 2248 W. 35th Ave. in Gary. For more information, call 219- 980-1720 or, visit www.foodbanknwi.org.

Volunteer and Hope Project Coordinator Chandra Dixon was ready to go at the start of the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana’s celebration of 30 years of service, held Saturday, June 9 with a carnival at the County Line Orchard in Hobart.

Ruben served up nachos and cheese at the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana’s celebration of 30 years of service with a carnival at the County Line Orchard in Hobart.

Agency Relations Manager Chandra offers up the potato sundaes.

Face painting was a hit for all ages at the Northwest Indiana Food Bank Carnival at the County Line Orchard in Hobart.

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About Mike Siroky

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All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the above excellent column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Mike Siroky is a writer and editor. He is a native of Northwest Indiana. He has worked in media from coast to coast. To contact Mike, email mikel@the chronicleNWI.com

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