Indianapolis Star, July 5, 2008: Food pantry offers refuge from hunger

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By William J. Booher

As rising gasoline and food prices put more strain on already tight family budgets, Pastor Thom Hord of Community Church of Greenwood felt it was time the church offered a food pantry.

Opened in mid-May in two adjoining former Sunday school classrooms in the church at 1477 W. Main St., Greenwood, The Refuge has received such a big response from those in need that the church is looking to relocate the pantry.

Hord said he recently became much more aware of people living in or near poverty in Johnson County when he participated in Leadership for Johnson County. The nonprofit organization focuses on creative problem-solving, including helping the homeless.

“You can get caught up in your own little world and not see a thing,” said Hord, the church’s pastor of outreach.

The pantry may be moved soon into larger space in a building in the 400 block of North Madison Avenue in Old Town Greenwood, Hord said.

The church also would use the 5,000 square feet of space there for after-school programs for students and other free offerings to children and adults, such as computer labs and classes on taxes and balancing checkbooks, he said.

For now, the pantry at the church is focused on serving residents in Johnson County, primarily those in the Greenwood area just south of Indianapolis, although no one truly in need will be turned away, Hord said.

Only a few food pantries have been serving the growing Greenwood area.

The pantry is open from 9 to 11 a.m. on Tuesdays and 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays, with individuals in need allowed to pick up supplies every two weeks.

Kerry Beasley, the church’s administrative assistant for outreach, estimated the pantry has had 1,000 visits in the nearly two months it has operated.

Three hundred people came in the first two weeks, and many have returned, with new people coming, too, she said.

Treva Buttress, 44, Greenwood, made her first visit to The Refuge on Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s saving our lives,” Buttress said of the pantry, which she learned about from a flier.

She stocked up on soy milk, spaghetti and sauce, orange juice, eggs, and even some chocolate treats for her husband, who is a musician.

Buttress said she and her husband face eviction from their rental home and have scrimped to get by. She recently was able to buy an old car for $500.

Her husband, Buttress said, does not have steady work, and “I’m applying for jobs anywhere I can.”

Rick and Rosanne Tate, Greenwood, who have a teen son at home, also shopped for supplies to get by in these tight financial times.

“My pay’s been real low,” he said of a production job he has had for about a year at a manufacturing company in Franklin.

Tate, who turns 59 on Tuesday, said he has just been promoted to operating lathes. “My new position is going to help a lot,” he said.

He said he’s a tool-and-die maker by trade but has been laid off at jobs in Muncie and Marion. “I was 30 years in tool-and-die work, and it doesn’t mean a thing when you’re over 50,” he said.

“It just seems like the economy has changed from what it used to be,” Tate said.

Rosanne Tate said the pantry helps round out their family food supply. “Some things we couldn’t otherwise afford, like orange juice, which is something you can otherwise do without,” she said.

“In reality, all of us are just one step or one break away from being in a totally different lifestyle,” Hord said of anyone’s potential for poverty. “We can easily be sleeping in our cars.”

The latest figures from the state of Indiana and the Indiana Department of Workforce Development show Johnson County, with a population of about 136,000 people, with a 3.5 percent unemployment rate, 5,175 students receiving free or reduced-fee school lunches, and a poverty rate of 7.1 percent.

Hord said he learned from Leadership for Johnson County that 26 percent of people in the county are near the poverty level.

Beasley, who oversees the pantry in her outreach role with the help of several volunteers, said the Illinois-based Midwest Food Bank, which opened an Indianapolis division on the Southside in March, provides the pantry with some canned food, packaged goods and frozen meat.

The pantry, she said, also obtains fresh fruits, vegetables and meats from Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana in Indianapolis.

United Natural Foods in Greenwood, an organic foods distributor, has donated soy milk to the pantry, Hord said.

He said members of the congregation have been generous in contributing food and clothing, an area that he said the pantry hopes to expand into if it lands the new, larger location in Old Town.

“The church has a responsibility to be where people come when they need help,” said Norma Fleming, 76, Greenwood, a church member who volunteers at the pantry.

“We’ve had some people come in and apologize for being in a position to need help,” she said.

But, she said, they have no need to apologize.

“They have illnesses, health issues, job issues. They are not people who are trying to take advantage of the system.”

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