Shelves of canned soup, green beans and pineapple slices are stocked in the new Harvest Food Pantry building.
Bins of cereal, granola bars and au gratin potatoes are arranged in order on wide tables. Freezers and refrigerators are filled with fresh meat and dairy products.
All that remains is opening the doors to help feed hungry people in Johnson County.
SS. Francis and Clare Catholic Church will debut its new, expanded food pantry building on Sept. 13, with the hope of providing more services for the needy in the Center Grove area.
Though the church has had a food ministry for two years, it had been relegated to spare space around the campus. With a permanent home, the hope is to open more often and meet the needs of more hungry families.
“The goal is to better serve the needy of Johnson County. This allows us to expand our hours and do that,” said Tammy Murray, chairwoman of the food pantry.
The Harvest Food Pantry is part of a growing network of food assistance in Johnson County. Currently, 10 pantries operate throughout the county. Most are open only one or two days a week. Interchurch Food Pantry in Franklin, the county’s largest, is open daily.
Organizers need the extra days to meet the need. The Interchurch Food Pantry served 21 percent more clients through the first half of this year than in 2013.
To provide food for those people, the pantry relies on the generosity of the community. Many local pantries also collect monetary donations to buy food from Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, an Indianapolis-based food hub.
Interchurch Food Pantry hosts fundraisers such as its chili cook-off and dine-to-donate nights to generate money. Food drives from community groups provide a base of canned and nonperishable goods.
The Harvest Food Pantry relies on food donations collected from parishioners throughout the year, said Dan Sall, director of the outreach ministry at the parish. Groups such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and sports teams also host food drives.
The directors of local pantries work together to ensure that no needy person goes hungry, Murray said. Many, such as Harvest Food Pantry, allow clients to receive food only once per month. So each pantry has resources they can direct families to, such as another pantry or social agency.
“We always have a volunteer who can get them additional help if they need it. We have information on all of the different programs in this county and other counties that we can point them to quickly and easily,” she said.
Currently, Harvest Food Pantry is open every second and fourth Saturday of the month.
Families have to bring a photo identification and a license or document that has their current address, such as a utility bill or rent agreement.
The pantry is open to anyone in Johnson County. Pantry volunteers check each family in and walk them through the selection of canned and boxed food. The amount they receive depends on the number of people in their family, Murray said.
In the three hours it’s open, the pantry serves about 100 families, Sall said. But in October, November and December, that number can reach to 120 or 130 families.
“We continue to get new clients. Often, we have people who come once, then don’t come back again for a couple of months, if they’ve found a job or don’t need the help,” Sall said. “A majority of our clients are only here because they have a need.”
The new building will allow the church to add days when the pantry is open.
“We were operating wherever the parish could put us, often in the school,” Sall said. “Our ultimate desire is to open more frequently, during the week. If we’re over in the school environment, we can’t do that.”
The new building is across the parking lot from the church. Construction was paid for with donations collected during the church’s Lenten collection drive.
The building has a large open room and a side area for a refrigerator and freezers. The layout will allow the pantry to more efficiently move families in and out.
“Sometimes it gets pretty chaotic with the number of people who come in. But I think opening during the week will even out the traffic flow in here,” Sall said.
Organizers will continue to open twice each month until they are comfortable with the new building and process of moving families through the pantry, Murray said.