Addressing food insecurity for the holidays

Addressing food insecurity for the holidays

Written by: Rob Earnshaw
November 19, 2018


Holiday traditions come in all forms for people in Northwest Indiana.  For some it has become an important tradition to help those who are food insecure and find it difficult to celebrate the holidays. 

PAX CENTER 

That is where people like Nate Loucks come in. 

In 2010 Loucks founded State Street Community Church in an economically struggling area in LaPorte. He soon discovered the biggest need in the community was food justice. That led to a food pantry that was announced in the form of a simple sign in the church front yard. “I think that first month we fed about 300 people,” Loucks says. “And it continued to grow.” 

In 2015 a donor gave the church a building that once housed a bar and nightclub. This became the Pax Center, a food-providing organization in downtown LaPorte. Pax, which means peace in Latin, features programs from the church that have moved to the center—giving more people in need a bit of peace. “It is our calling to be good neighbors and take care of those who are struggling,” Loucks says. 

The organization continued to grow. The city donated an abandoned parking lot which became the Jackson Street Community Garden. It has a u-pick area and spots for anyone who wants to garden. Then last year another vacant building was donated, which became the Brighton Street Green Space. Loucks says they are in the process of renovating it to house community meetings, more garden space and an urban orchard. 

By this time Pax also added community meals, which Loucks says are different from soup kitchens. A full-course meal is fed and the meals are not just to combat hunger and food insecurity, but also to acknowledge what Loucks says is the poverty of loneliness.  

Photo Credit: Monica Zibutis
Nate Loucks
Photo Credit: Monica Zibutis
Nate Loucks

PAX CENTER 

That is where people like Nate Loucks come in. 

In 2010 Loucks founded State Street Community Church in an economically struggling area in LaPorte. He soon discovered the biggest need in the community was food justice. That led to a food pantry that was announced in the form of a simple sign in the church front yard. “I think that first month we fed about 300 people,” Loucks says. “And it continued to grow.” 

In 2015 a donor gave the church a building that once housed a bar and nightclub. This became the Pax Center, a food-providing organization in downtown LaPorte. Pax, which means peace in Latin, features programs from the church that have moved to the center—giving more people in need a bit of peace. “It is our calling to be good neighbors and take care of those who are struggling,” Loucks says. 

The organization continued to grow. The city donated an abandoned parking lot which became the Jackson Street Community Garden. It has a u-pick area and spots for anyone who wants to garden. Then last year another vacant building was donated, which became the Brighton Street Green Space. Loucks says they are in the process of renovating it to house community meetings, more garden space and an urban orchard. 

By this time Pax also added community meals, which Loucks says are different from soup kitchens. A full-course meal is fed and the meals are not just to combat hunger and food insecurity, but also to acknowledge what Loucks says is the poverty of loneliness.  

Then of course, there is Thanksgiving. Pax hosts a “huge” dinner the night before the holiday, which is held at the church. About 300 to 450 people show up each year and it continues to grow, Loucks says. “We open up the building and cook. It’s one of my favorite days of the whole year. We cook a Thanksgiving dinner for whoever wants to come.”   

During Christmas, Pax helps other organizations plan smaller events.  

“It has been a busy eight years,” Loucks says. For more information visit thepaxcenter.com. 

500 TURKEYS 

Founded by Jennifer Bolton of Valparaiso’s Life Bridge Christian Church in 2009, 500 Turkeys began as a program to feed 500 families.  The ministry expects to feed at least 1,500 families this holiday season.  

“The goal is at least always 500,” says 500 Turkeys team member Kelly Asbell.  

Distribution of the turkey dinners takes place at the Valparaiso Nazarene Church. Anyone in Northwest Indiana in need can register online and receive a ticket for the dinner.  The distribution is a week before Thanksgiving and not only are turkey dinners available to take home, those in need have access to a clothing drive and vendors that offer services such as cholesterol checks.  There is also a pizza dinner and entertainment and an area of prayer. “There are a lot of resources other than just a turkey dinner,” Asbell says. 

Planning for the event begins in February. And each year in August a “Turkeypalooza” is held in Central Park Plaza as the ministry’s main fundraising event.  

Asbell says hundreds of volunteers help 500 Turkeys distribute meals each year. It’s her fourth year helping to feed the community. The first year she volunteered, Asbell says she took a little boy to pick out clothes. His cancer-stricken mother was weak from chemotherapy. Asbell says she found the boy stuffing T-shirts in his pockets. She told him the clothes were free and asked what else he needed. The boy said he was in real need of underwear. “I called my husband and told him to go out and buy underwear for him,” Asbell says.  

Photo Credit: Monica Zibutis
Jennifer Bolton
Photo Credit: Monica Zibutis
Jennifer Bolton

500 TURKEYS 

Founded by Jennifer Bolton of Valparaiso’s Life Bridge Christian Church in 2009, 500 Turkeys began as a program to feed 500 families.  The ministry expects to feed at least 1,500 families this holiday season.  

“The goal is at least always 500,” says 500 Turkeys team member Kelly Asbell.  

Distribution of the turkey dinners takes place at the Valparaiso Nazarene Church. Anyone in Northwest Indiana in need can register online and receive a ticket for the dinner.  The distribution is a week before Thanksgiving and not only are turkey dinners available to take home, those in need have access to a clothing drive and vendors that offer services such as cholesterol checks.  There is also a pizza dinner and entertainment and an area of prayer. “There are a lot of resources other than just a turkey dinner,” Asbell says. 

Planning for the event begins in February. And each year in August a “Turkeypalooza” is held in Central Park Plaza as the ministry’s main fundraising event.  

Asbell says hundreds of volunteers help 500 Turkeys distribute meals each year. It’s her fourth year helping to feed the community. The first year she volunteered, Asbell says she took a little boy to pick out clothes. His cancer-stricken mother was weak from chemotherapy. Asbell says she found the boy stuffing T-shirts in his pockets. She told him the clothes were free and asked what else he needed. The boy said he was in real need of underwear. “I called my husband and told him to go out and buy underwear for him,” Asbell says.  

Asbell says everyone who receives a turkey dinner has a story like the boy’s.  “Just seeing the lines forming there—people get there at 6 a.m. just to get their spot to choose clothing,” she says. “The need in Northwest Indiana—it is so vast and great.” 

Asbell says they are still in need of food donations and volunteers. For more information visit 500turkeys.com. 

MERRY MEALS 

Merry Meals is a charitable organization feeding Northwest Indiana families. Mandy Moore, of Chesterton, started Merry Meals in 2008 to provide families with a boxed Christmas dinner who otherwise may not have a holiday meal. The organization’s resources have been donated by its members and other concerned individuals in the community including local businesses. 

When she started Merry Meals, Moore was able to provide a handful of dinners. It was something special she wanted to do that could include her children. After putting Merry Meals on Facebook after that first time “it grew every year.” 

This year Moore expects to feed 600 families.  “As long as they can pick the meals up, we don’t care where they are from,” she says.  

Meals are provided uncooked and meant for the families to cook at home. Pickup is between noon and 4 p.m. December 22 at the Chesterton Moose Lodge 1623, at 602 Broadway. To register for the free meal, visit  merrymeals.com,  where there is also a link to the Facebook page. 

OTHERS HELPING FEED THE COMMUNITY THIS HOLIDAY SEASON 

The Goldstar Cafe in Lowell this year will host its fourth annual free Thanksgiving Day dinner. With the help of volunteers, owner Charlene Hall serves 100 or so visitors at her café in addition to delivering food to the community.
goldstarcafeandcatering.com

Photo Credit: Monica Zibutis
Mandy Moore
Photo Credit: Monica Zibutis
Mandy Moore

MERRY MEALS 

Merry Meals is a charitable organization feeding Northwest Indiana families. Mandy Moore, of Chesterton, started Merry Meals in 2008 to provide families with a boxed Christmas dinner who otherwise may not have a holiday meal. The organization’s resources have been donated by its members and other concerned individuals in the community including local businesses. 

When she started Merry Meals, Moore was able to provide a handful of dinners. It was something special she wanted to do that could include her children. After putting Merry Meals on Facebook after that first time “it grew every year.” 

This year Moore expects to feed 600 families.  “As long as they can pick the meals up, we don’t care where they are from,” she says.  

Meals are provided uncooked and meant for the families to cook at home. Pickup is between noon and 4 p.m. December 22 at the Chesterton Moose Lodge 1623, at 602 Broadway. To register for the free meal, visit  merrymeals.com,  where there is also a link to the Facebook page. 

OTHERS HELPING FEED THE COMMUNITY THIS HOLIDAY SEASON 

The Goldstar Cafe in Lowell this year will host its fourth annual free Thanksgiving Day dinner. With the help of volunteers, owner Charlene Hall serves 100 or so visitors at her café in addition to delivering food to the community.
goldstarcafeandcatering.com

The Food Bank of Northwest Indiana’s Hope for the Holidays is an annual effort to provide meals to the hungry kids, adults and seniors across the Region.
foodbanknwi.org

The nonprofit Portage-based group Our Community Inc. every year hosts a Thanksgiving Day meal at Willowcreek Middle School. On Dec. 23 they will also distribute “Christmas Boxes” filled with meals and snacks for families.
oneportage.com