Bringing Our Community Together – Charity grows from holiday dinner to community kitchen, training facility

Written by Contributor. Posted in Featured

Published on November 23, 2016 with No Comments

By Steve Euvino

Staci L. Pearman, president of Our Community Inc., a Portage-based nonprofit agency, poses outside The Gathering Place, the former architect’s office building that Our Community is leasing. Our Community is sponsoring an Indoor Holiday Market now through January on Saturdays and Sundays to raise funds for a kitchen in The Gathering Place. The kitchen would serve meals and provide training for clients.

What started as a community Thanksgiving dinner has blossomed into a charity seeking to serve the Portage area. Our Community Inc. is raising funds now to install a kitchen in an effort to help community members help themselves.

Our Community is holding an Indoor Holiday Market Saturdays and Sundays in November, December, and January at 6534 American Way in Portage. The nonprofit charity is leasing with an option to purchase the two-story former architecture office building.

Staci L. Pearman, president of Our Community, said her group is raising funds and accepting donations to develop a kitchen and classrooms within the building, called The Gathering Place.

“We want to take people with immediate needs and give them training and skills,” said Pearman.

Since moving into the 7,000-square-foot building in April, Our Community volunteers have done some painting and cleaning. The facility would provide meeting space, classrooms, dining area, and a kitchen with workstations to train clients in food preparation.

As posted on its website, Our Community seeks to “create unique opportunities to bring the communities together and to belong without regard to social labels or status. We believe much can be accomplished when we join resources and people to serve one and another.”

Pearman added, “Our mission is poverty alleviation through volunteerism and job skills. This is not a handout. You have to give for what you get.”

Pearman cited examples of clients giving back by taking classes or helping around the building.  Once the kitchen is opened, she added, it will serve meals, but it is not a soup kitchen. Clients pay with a combination of money and volunteer service, based on the “pay what you can and earn the rest” model.

Community class offerings include dinner on a budget, healthy meals for latchkey kids, freezer meals, canning, debt reduction, things to know before leaving for college, tax tips, real estate, and maintaining a naturally clean house.

Our Community developed from the community Thanksgiving dinner that is marking its sixth year at Willowcreek Middle School. A meal that started with 25 patrons in a local church has grown to serving up to 1,000 on-site and delivered meals. A team of 300 volunteers makes the holiday meal a reality.

Another Our Community holiday project is the Christmas Box, providing needy school families with food for the two-week holiday break. Under the Tree, another holiday project, provides Christmas presents.

Our Community also sponsors a Back to School Festival, hosted by Real Life, a Portage church. This past year, Pearman said, the festival provided socks and underwear for more than 300 school children.

A new project is Car Fairy, through which the public may donate vehicles. Depending on the vehicle’s condition, it can be scrapped for money, used by Our Community, or sold to someone in need. In the case of the vehicle being sold, the purchaser would pay $100 down and $100 a month, with no interest charged.

For people in dire need, Pearman explained, that vehicle may make the difference between getting to work or not.

“We’re trying to do things that will improve people in that [financial] situation and make it positive,” Pearman said.

A former deacon at her church, Pearman said this commitment to serving others came from her own personal experiences. Raised by her grandparents, she “grew up the hard way,” without access to community assistance.

“It’s nice to ‘hold people’s hands’ through tough situations,” Pearman said. “It’s about helping people. We’ll see what happens.”

The Holiday Indoor Market features vendors selling jewelry, cookware, cosmetics, crafts, chocolate, and baked goods. Saturday hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday hours are noon to 5 p.m. The market is open to the public, with free admission.

To donate to Our Community Inc., mail checks to 6534 American Way, Portage IN 46368. You can also use Chase QuickPay to info@ourcommunityinc.com or call 219-805-1659. Visit the website at www.oneportage.com.

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