HANCOCK COUNTY — Thanksgiving is just five days away.
While many are flocking to the grocery store this weekend in search of the last can of cranberries or pumpkin pie, others are wondering how they’ll be able to afford to put together a decent meal at all.
Many who struggle financially are turning to local food pantries for help.
Last weekend, nearly 400 Thanksgiving meal boxes were given away by the FARM — the Fortville Area Resource Mission — formerly known as the Fortville Christian Food Pantry.
Each box contained a turkey and all the fixings for a Thanksgiving meal.
The event was supported by Fortville Christians Unite, a collaboration of seven local churches. Church members, Mt. Vernon Township officials and Mt. Vernon Middle School students and staff met up at Fortville Christian Church to help distribute the food.
“We are so happy for the community support,” said Erin Flick, FARM’s director of daytime food distribution.
More Thanksgiving food boxes will be given out Tuesday, Nov. 23, during the pantry’s regular food distribution hours, from 12:30-2:30 p.m. Recipients will also be invited inside to select a variety of produce and bakery items.
FARM relies on donations of money, food and time to help sustain its mission of serving those in need in the greater Fortville area.
Elizabeth Rusche, who manages operations at the Hancock County Food Pantry in Greenfield, said the need is always the greatest around the holidays.
“The last few months of every year we see a significant increase in our client count. We have purchased extra food anticipating this uptick, but we are always in need of donations,” she said.
Rising food costs, food supply instability and increasing demand are all making it more challenging for pantries to stay stocked with a sufficient amount of items to help those in need, Rusche said.
Anne Lesch, who helps with the Mt. Comfort Food Pantry as part of Vineyard Community Church, also cited inflation and the rising cost of food as hindrances for the pantry this year.
“We anticipate increased numbers during the holiday season,” she said. “This has always been a time of greater need, and this year we see that need being even greater.”
Lesch said the number of people coming to the Mt. Comfort Food Pantry for help has remained fairly steady from 2020 to 2021.
The Hancock County Food Pantry served significantly fewer households this year compared to last, said Ruschc, which she attributes in part to clients receiving COVID relief funds from the government.
Rusche said the drop in client count has been experienced by most pantries in central Indiana, but that those numbers are starting to creep back up.
Pantry volunteer Deb Johnson said the same has been true at the Main Street Food Pantry, which teamed up with Christians Unite to donate items for the recent Thanksgiving box giveaway hosted by FARM.
Pantries are preparing for another rush in the next few weeks as families seek support over the holidays.
While it’s a blessing to be able to provide those in need at the holidays, Johnson said it’s a need that lasts all year long.
“We have been blessed with enough to provide for those in need, but we need the continued support of the community to keep the pantry open,” said Johnson, adding that cash and food donations are always gladly accepted.
Both Flick and Rusche said that cash donations are preferred over food.
“With a cash donation, we are able to purchase products so we can have a consistent inventory for our clients. We directly purchase most of our food from Gleaners Food Bank. For every $1 donated, we are able to purchase approximately $5 worth of food,” said Rusche.
The Hancock County Food Pantry is also in constant need of personal hygiene items like toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors and deodorant, she said.
At the FARM, the biggest needs are boxed cereal, canned meat, canned fruit and soup, as well as personal hygiene items like deodorant, shampoo, liquid hand soap, laundry detergent, tissues and toilet paper
At the Mt. Comfort Food Pantry, organizers encourage the donation of cash and food, especially easy-to-eat items like peanut butter crackers and instant oatmeal that are distributed to students at local schools.
The foods should be easy for kids to prepare and eat on their own, said Lesch, like easy-open canned meats, soups, macaroni and cheese, jello, raisins, cereal bars, and fruit and pudding cups.
The pantry can always use donations of shelf stable foods like canned goods, pasta, peanut butter and boxed meals like Hamburger Helper, as well as meats, she said.
“Currently we have enough food, but our meat supply has decreased and our funds are running low,” Lesch said last week.
Giving remains steady at the Hancock County Food Pantry, according to Ruschc, but rising food costs have increased the amount of money needed to stay fully stocked.
After a big outpouring of support for food pantries at the onset of COVID last year, Johnson said donations are down somewhat at the Main Street Pantry in Fortville this year compared to last.
Both food and monetary donations have increased at the FARM, said Flick, “but the donations have not kept up with the pace of our growth in the number of families served. We saw a record number of families served in the first week of November, and we anticipate those numbers to keep climbing… to a record number of families served throughout the holidays and during the winter months.”
The pantry was serving an average of 45 families a week at the start of last year, but is now averaging 180 families each week as of last month.
The Hancock County Food Pantry has seen its client base grow, as well. “We expect to serve 700-plus Hancock County families in the month of December,” said Rusche, adding that the recipients take home much more than food and toiletries.
They’re also given love and compassion.
“We hope our clients will find that our pantry is well-stocked with food as well as words of hope and encouragement when they come to visit us,” she said.
“Our volunteers truly love serving our clients and developing friendships with them, and look forward to serving them. We will be good and faithful stewards of the funds entrusted to our care so that we can continue to serve our clients to the best of our abilities.”
HANCOCK COUNTY FOOD PANTRIES
Fortville Area Resource Mission
Address: Fortville Christian Church, 9450 N. County Road 200W, Fortville
Tuesdays: 12:30-2:30 p.m.
Third Thursdays: 6-8 p.m.
Donations can be dropped off in a collection bin in the church entryway at any time.
Monetary donations can be made online at fortvillearearesourcemission.org. Checks can be mailed to: FARM, 9450 N. County Road 200W, Fortville, IN 46040
What’s accepted: Nonperishable food items, hygiene items, paper products and cleaning products
Hancock County Food Pantry
Address: 741½ S. State St., Greenfield
Mondays: 1-2:30 p.m. and 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Tuesdays: 9 a.m.-10:30 a.m. and 6-7 p.m.
Wednesdays: 7-8 p.m.
Thursdays: 7-8 p.m.
Monetary donations can be made online at hancockcountyfoodpantry.com/donate. Checks can be mailed to: Hancock County Food Pantry, 741½ S. State St., Greenfield, IN 46140.
Donations can be dropped off at the pantry from 8-10 a.m. Mondays, or during food distribution hours. Donations can also be dropped off in collection barrels at both Hancock County Public Library locations.
What’s accepted: Canned and boxed foods, fresh produce, personal hygiene items like toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, deodorant, etc.
Main Street Food Pantry
Address: Gateway Community Building, 115 N. Main St., Fortville
Food donations can be dropped off at the pantry from 1-3 p.m. Tuesdays or at Gateway Community Church, at 125 E. Staat St. in Fortville, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, at Door No. 4. Call 317-485-5418 in advance to ensure someone is available.
Monetary donations can be mailed to: Main Street Food Pantry, Gateway Community Church, PO Box 116, Fortville, IN 46040.
What’s accepted: peanut butter, canned meat, beans, soup, macaroni and cheese, instant potatoes, rice, noodles, pasta, pasta sauce, Tuna Helper, Hamburger Helper, canned fruit and vegetables
Vineyard Community Church at Mt. Comfort
Address: 1672 N. County Road 600W, Greenfield
First Wednesday of the month from 12:30-2:30 p.m.
Third Sunday of the month from 1-3 p.m.
Food donations can be dropped off at the church Tuesday through Friday. Call ahead at 317-894-3280 to make arrangements.
Monetary donations can also be made at the church. If mailing a check, specify Food Pantry in the memo line.
What’s accepted: canned goods, pasta, peanut butter, Hamburger Helper, macaroni and cheese, canned meats, soup, instant oatmeal, peanut butter crackers, Jello, fruit and pudding cups, raisins, cereal bars.