From the Pantry

it takes a village to combat hunger on the south side

By Joe Shearer

»Food insecurity, a lack of access to affordable, nutritious food, is an ever-present problem in American communities — Johnson County included — and combating hunger requires an all-hands-on-deck effort by local charitable organizations.

Kimberly Smith of Johnson County Senior Services, which runs a food pantry and delivery service for senior citizens and people with disabilities, says living conditions are often deplorable for those the organization is trying to help.

“We found when we were taking many of these individuals home, they were suffering in silence,” Smith says. “They were going hungry. They were eating dog food. They were eating maggot-covered food they got out of a garbage can, or they weren’t eating at all.”

Churches, small groups and individuals typically run food pantries, and they very regularly find themselves overwhelmed by demand. These organizations rely on volunteers to contribute time and energy so those in need do not go hungry.

Labor force

“Muscles,” says Carol Phipps, manager at Franklin’s Interchurch Food Pantry of Johnson County. “We need muscles to help unload trucks. We need forklift drivers and pallet jack operators to store things in the warehouse. We need people to stock shelves, to organize the food and make it look nice.”

Food pantries chronically fall short in the muscle department. Smith says many JCSS volunteers are elderly and have a difficult time hefting large skids of supplies or stocking shelves.

Drivers are also needed at JCSS, which is the only door-to-door service in the area, Smith says. Many of the seniors and disabled whom the organization serves aren’t able to get around by themselves, and without the care and attention from volunteer drivers, they wouldn’t have access to JCSS services.

Greeters are another need. Families often request assistance at the pantries, and greeters can help explain the process and make them more comfortable while at the pantry, providing a calming influence to those who may feel uncomfortable asking for help.

A good fit

Melissa Rojas, manager of Great Harvest Food Pantry in New Whiteland, says Great Harvest requires between 20 and 25 volunteers weekly to function properly. And while able bodies are perpetually in short supply for heavy lifting and driving, diverse skill sets are needed.

Food pantry officials will speak with volunteers in order to place them in areas where they can make the biggest difference. Great Harvest, for example, gives prospective volunteers tours and conducts interviews to find out their skills and interests. At JCSS, volunteers fill out applications. The goal is to create a more effective, inviting atmosphere, cutting down on chaos and confusion, and creating an environment where everyone can work where they best fit.

“It doesn’t matter what people do, they can make a difference,” Smith says. “Not everyone is comfortable driving and delivering food. If someone loves taking pictures, they can become our photographer for an event. If someone enjoys putting flowers together, if we ever get any from the funeral home, they can arrange them and give them to the seniors.”

But don’t expect pressure from food pantries to commit to a great deal of time; one common theme among them all is an appreciation for help, not an expectation of volunteers to devote a lot of their time to the pantries.

Regardless of the time commitments, “our volunteers make such a difference,” Phipps says. “We couldn’t do what we do if volunteers didn’t give their time. We have people who volunteer a lot, and some who volunteer a little. Everything helps.”

And the holidays offer added opportunities to volunteer. Retirees make up a large percentage of pantry volunteers, but a number of them relocate to warmer climes when temperatures drop in Indiana.

And most of all, it’s important to remember the reason behind volunteerism. A food pantry’s goal, aside from simply providing food to those who need it, is to treat patrons with dignity and respect. Phipps drives that point home with a quote she shares with her volunteers: “No one is more cherished in this world than someone who lightens the burden of another.”

GET INVOLVED

Want to help?
Volunteer at these area food pantries:

Johnson County Senior Services
731 S. State St., Franklin, (317) 738-4544 or (317) 560-1707,
kimberlysmith@jcseniorservices.org

Great Harvest Food Pantry
6766 U.S. 31, New Whiteland, (317) 657-4998, info@greatharvestfoodpantry.org

Interchurch Food Pantry of Johnson County
211 Commerce Drive, Franklin,  (317) 736-5090, pantry@ifpjc.org

Our Lady of the Greenwood Church
335 S. Meridian St., Greenwood, (317) 888-2861