Sharing a meal is about family and friendship, so it’s a natural fit for two Elkhart charities to serve up a hot meal to bring people together for a common cause.

St. John’s Episcopal Church’s food pantry and The Salvation Army, two organizations that serve thousands of Elkhartans every year, will receive proceeds from the inaugural Feast to Feed dinner on Saturday, Aug. 20.

The St. John’s food pantry feeds about 500 families a month on average, pantry director Charlie Goethals said.

Seniors, adults and children visit the pantry when it’s open from 8:30 to 10 a.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays. When clients arrive, they’re given a number and sit in the church’s great hall enjoying hot coffee and warm conversation with other patrons. They can also peruse the stack of free books they can take home, if any are available. Volunteers call up each family by their number, and then the clients are allowed to go shopping.

In the summer, everyone can get fresh produce donated from Church Community Services‘ Seed to Feed program. Families can also each get a bag of fresh chicken or hamburger from the USDA if the meat is available. Then, clients can choose a limited number of dry goods from the shelves, including food, diapers and toilet paper.

When a family is done shopping, a volunteer helps bag or box their items. The food pantry serves 400 to 500 families a month on average, and sometimes slightly more in the winter.

Billy Coleman of Elkhart reaches for a bag of chocolate chip oatmeal bars at St. John's pantry on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016. (Flavor 574 photo/Krystal Vivian)
Billy Coleman of Elkhart reaches for a bag of chocolate chip oatmeal bars at St. John’s pantry on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016.
(Flavor 574 photo/Krystal Vivian)

Sometimes grants are available, but the St. John’s food pantry hasn’t received a grant in several years, so it runs entirely on donations. Goethals and the other volunteers use donated money to shop for needed items when they can get good deals. The pantry also receives donations from individual donors, the Food Bank of Northern Indiana and food drives like the annual Letter Carriers ‘Stamp Out Hunger’ food drive.

Feast to Feed is the first major fundraiser that will specifically benefit St. John’s food pantry.

“We’re a very fortunate pantry,” Goethals said. “We are thankful for everything anyone gives.”

The St. John’s food pantry gives more than just food and toiletries — it’s also a community for people who may struggle to find it elsewhere. Families talk while waiting to shop and build relationships with each other. Many pantry clients return to volunteer when they no longer need the pantry’s help.

Community is also important to the Salvation Army, the other non-profit that will benefit from Feast to Feed.

“We serve the whosoever. If they live in Elkhart and there’s a need and they come to us, we do what we can to be able to assist them,” Major Nicholas Montgomery said.

Billy Coleman of Elkhart peruses the items available at St. John's pantry on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016. (Flavor 574 photo/Krystal Vivian)
Billy Coleman of Elkhart peruses the items available at St. John’s pantry on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016.
(Flavor 574 photo/Krystal Vivian)

Elkhart’s Salvation Army offers free hot breakfasts five days per week and gives food to families in need of emergency assistance. The organization hosts community programs for teenagers and senior citizens looking to connect with others in a safe place.

They also help people in need to help themselves.

“We have a pathway of hope for those families that may be working, but they don’t have enough income to pay the necessities. For whatever reason, they’re literally one paycheck away from being homeless and destitute,” Montgomery said. “We have a program that helps people build their skills, build their confidence and agencies where we can help them meet their goals.”

Church services are also hosted at the Salvation Army for anyone seeking spiritual guidance, no matter their income.

The organization runs on almost $1 million per year. About half of that is raised in October, November and December during the annual Tree of Lights campaign, which includes sponsorship from Red Kettle bell ringing and Angel Tree.

Though the economy has improved since the Great Recession, Salvation Army in Elkhart still serves about 40,000 meals every year.

“The unemployment rate is down, but the wages are not up,” Montgomery said. “People are working jobs, but they’re jobs that aren’t enabling them to pay for everything. We have some great people in our community and they want to be responsible. They’re doing everything they can to pay all of their bills, but what it comes down to for our families, they need help.”

That’s why fundraisers like Feast to Feed are so important.

“When [people] support Feast to Feed, it’s really going to help us to help the families that comes to us,” Montgomery said. “When they buy a ticket, that’s going to be feeding several people, many people. Kids, adults, seniors, who need food.  It’s pretty important.”

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