The food pantry at Church Community Services feeds 1 out of every 10 Elkhart residents every month.
And while that seems like a lot, just two years ago the food pantry served food to 1 out of every 5 Elkhart residents, Pantry Director Michael Downing said.
The recent decline in clients is thanks to improvements in the local economy, but even though Elkhart County businesses are hiring more workers, there are still thousands of people who need help.
The clients come in from all walks of life.
“We had one lady come in who was in her late 50s, maybe early 60s. She had just been diagnosed with cancer and her doctor said that to prolong her life, it would be a good idea to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables,” Michael Downing, pantry director, said. Only one problem: fresh fruits and vegetables were too expensive for this woman, who lived on a fixed income. She came to CCS for help.
“When she saw our produce table and found out that she could take as much as she could use, I saw tears welling up in her eyes,” Downing said. “Before, this was something she felt hopeless that she couldn’t afford fresh fruits and vegetables — but she could get them here.”
Another client came to the food pantry to help feed her family while her husband went to college full time so that he could get a job making upwards of $70,000 after graduation. Her family only needed the pantry for a few months. Other clients recently lost a job, are too sick to work or suddenly become responsible for raising grandchildren.
Many clients ask for jobs, so Downing leaves up flyers featuring job postings and information about CCS’s job training programs Men Alive and Soup of Success. They can also meet with a chaplain or spend time in the prayer room if they need spiritual help.
“Our guests are responsible people, but life happens,” he said. “The CCS pantry is here to be a cushion when they need it.”
Clients can visit the pantry once a calendar month to shop for items like fresh meat, dry pantry items, breads, eggs, fruits and vegetables, pet food, books and personal hygiene items like body wash and baby diapers. Guests receive a certain number of points they can use to shop the pantry, but some items (like fruits and vegetables) can be taken without limit.
Providing enough food for 5,300 Elkhartans a month depends heavily on relationships. CCS receives food donations from Monogram Foods, Culver Duck, Miller’s Poultry, Bimbo Bakery, United Pie Company and the 4-H fair. Little Caesars donates pizzas often and the Hunters Feed The Hungry program often provides fresh venison. CCS also receives USDA commodities.
There are also several local churches that donate food or the private donations that come through the door. CCS uses donated money to buy food for 18 cents a pound, and they can buy whatever items haven’t been donated.
Oftentimes, CCS has food that pantry clients might not be familiar with. Julie Miers with the Purdue Extension Office in Elkhart County teaches lessons about healthy eating and often hands out easy recipes for some of the more unusual items, like Hubbard squash or duck.
“She’s also made food that our guests can sample so they can make it at home,” Downing said. “One time she made duck with Manwich in the crock pot. That’s something kids will like.”
The food pantry at Church Community Services is a vital service for people in Elkhart, which is why fundraisers like Elkhart Dining Days are so important.
Ten percent of the proceeds from each Elkhart Dining Days meal will go to Church Community Services. Every penny will help CCS provide groceries to families in need.
In 2015, Elkhart Dining Days raised $7,200 for Church Community Services. That’s enough money to buy 40,000 pounds of food for Church Community Services — half of what CCS serves in a year.
Help your neighbors in need by enjoying a meal at one of the 11 restaurants participating in Elkhart Dining Days from Oct. 21 to Oct. 29. If you want to make an additional donation, text CCS to 45364.