Center Grove students have fed hundreds of residents in Johnson County.
Indianapolis food banks give them canned goods and peanut butter to give to hungry people.
Gleaners Food Bank stops by the pantry they have set up to help reach even more people in need.
The CARE Pantry opened in October 2009 as a way to give students at the school’s alternative academy a way to complete community service work and to help others in a bad economy, academy director Beth Bryant said.
Now, the pantry has become a beacon to county residents who need help. Hundreds seek out the pantry every Friday during the school year when it is open.
“You would see people come in here, struggling, losing their homes,” Bryant said.
Word of mouth has turned a humble food pantry, run in an old elementary school building, into an operation that helps thousands of hungry county residents a year.
In the first year, the pantry served about 137 families. This school year, more than 300 families came to the pantry.
CARE Pantry clients are mostly from the Center Grove area, but people from all across the county are welcome. Residents from Edinburgh and Trafalgar have made the drive to get food.
Part of the reason is the cleanliness and atmosphere of the pantry, Bryant said.
She teaches students not to judge clients. A person driving a new car could have lost a job a week ago and need help feeding the family, Bryant said.
Center Grove area residents could drive to the Interchurch Food Pantry in Franklin or go to a smaller pantry at a church in Greenwood.
The CARE Pantry in the old Maple Grove building, next to Center Grove High School, is in the heart of the Center Grove area.
“Positive word of mouth is what made us grow so fast,” Bryant said.
The CARE Pantry also serves a need that many may not see in the area, said Carly Carter, a senior at the alternative academy.
“When you think about Center Grove, you think about humongous mansions,” she said. “Because we live in this area, (people who need help) live in the shadows of a typical Center Grove resident.”
While alternative academy students run the pantry, keeping it stocked is a community effort.
Student government members from Center Grove High School trick or treat for canned
donations at Halloween. Football games between cross-county rivals become food drives.
Donors write checks, so Bryant can buy meat and dairy products to keep in the pantry. Food banks in Indianapolis help keep the pantry stocked with nonperishable foods. Gleaners Food Bank in Indianapolis has brought its mobile food bank to the parking lot.
Besides food, the pantry now offer diapers, toilet paper and toiletries.
Every student who has graduated from the academy since the fall of 2009 has worked in the pantry, Bryant said. Students register clients, pack boxes to give out and volunteer at the food banks that supply the CARE Pantry, she said.
Typically, a line of people forms outside long before the pantry doors open.
David Hilligoss, a recent graduate of the alternative academy, said, “It could get swamped. You could tell that what you were doing was making a big impact.”