Johnson County families in need soon will be able to get food and shop for gently used clothing at the same location.
They’ll be able pick up fresh meat, boxed meals and produce such as apples, bananas and carrots. If they need bedding, a coat for their kids or an outfit for a job interview, they can find that as well.
Eventually, they’ll be able to use computers to apply for jobs and learn how to create a convincing resume.
The Community Ministry Center at Mount Pleasant Christian Church has opened as a hub for help in Johnson County. The 15,000-square-foot building will combine a food pantry with a clothing and household goods ministry.
Organizers anticipate helping more than 300 families each week.
In addition, the location will become an outlet for the Midwest Food Bank, helping to distribute to food pantries and social agencies throughout central Indiana.
“We’ll be a kind of ‘superpantry.’ Not only will we provide for people here, but we’ll also provide to smaller pantries deeper in the community,” said Matt Goodpaster, church administrator. “The idea was to bring everything together under one roof.”
The approximately $4.3 million project has grown out of desire by church officials to combine their social service ministries into one location, according to Johnette Cruz, spokeswoman for Mount Pleasant Christian Church.
Before construction of the center, the food pantry and clothing ministry were housed in separate locations. In His Name, which provides gently used clothes, bedding and other household items to families in need, was located in two houses side-by-side. Clients would have to walk from room to room in order to pick out children’s clothes, men’s apparel and women’s items. Storage for extra items was in the garage.
Living Bread, the weekly food pantry, operated out of a different house north of the church.
The new building brings that all together, with additional features, Cruz said.
“The whole idea is that we’re able to serve the clients better and provide a more conducive place for them to get help,”she said.
‘Like a grocery store’
Two separate storehouses will be used to store both food and clothing needs. People can drop off their goods at the drive-up door for a quick donation. Volunteers can use the space to sort and store the donated items.
A separate space has been set up as a clothing store, with sweatshirts, jeans, dress shirts and dresses arranged on racks and shelves according to size and item.
Across the center, the food pantry will be set up to offer clients a multitude of choices in feeding their families.
“It’ll be just like a grocery store. There will be meat cases, produce bins and shelving for dry food items,” Goodpaster said.
Once the pantry opens, the way that families receive help also changes. Currently, each family that comes to Living Bread receives a standard box of items. But starting in early February, individual families will be classified on a point-scale, depending on the number of people in the family and their need.
Different food items will be worth different points, giving people the freedom to shop for exactly what they want, Goodpaster said.
“It will increase their shopping experience. They won’t just pull up and get a box from us. They’ll have some say and input on what kind of food they want to provide for their family,” he said.
In addition, a classroom constructed at the front of the building hopefully will be used as a community education center, Goodpaster said. People will be able to learn resume building, job interview techniques and other life skills.
Laptops will be available to let people search for jobs.
A certified commercial kitchen will allow leaders to prepare hot meals for families coming to the pantry. Offices, private meeting space and devotional gathering areas also were constructed as part of the structure.
‘Increasing our reach’
At the center of the building, a large devotional space has been built where clients will wait to be served.
“That will be a gathering area, where we’ll pray with the clients. We want to eventually use it as a space to worship as well for people who need that additional help,” Cruz said.
Planning for the Community Ministry Center took two years. Church leaders purchased land, and the houses that were sitting on them, south of the existing Mount Pleasant complex. The purchases came together slowly. The land was secured about one year ago, with construction starting in late 2012, Cruz said.
Almost all of the building is complete, with just a few minor touches to be finished before a grand opening on Tuesday.
An industrial-size cooler and separate freezer will be installed in the warehouse, Goodpaster said. Through a partnership with Midwest Food Bank, they’ll be able to store and hold items that will be used to supplement social service agencies throughout the county.
“This greatly increases the amount of meat and produce we can take in. Right now, it’s going to make us viable in terms of providing relief to other pantries, as well as increasing our reach in the community,” he said.
Because of initial problems with the walk-in cooler and freezer, Living Bread won’t be up and operational until late January or early February.
But In His Name already is accepting clothing donations, and the ministry opened in mid-December.
Training has been ongoing for the volunteers who will be staffing the center, Cruz said. With so many new features and new procedures with everything under one roof, the process has been intensive.
People are learning to do everything from greet people coming to the center for help, to accept donations and sort food.
“We’ve had a huge influx of volunteers. So we have 250 to 300 new people coming to volunteer in a space that wasn’t there before, so we’re in the middle of training and doing procedures to help them get ready,” Cruz said.