December 14, 2012

Hope for Christmas

Toy drive to help less fortunate is a mission fortified by faith

The Food Link pantry is hoping to provide toys for nearly 1,000 children from Indianapolis families in need this Christmas. Maria Sasso, from left, April Sasso, Wynn Tinkham and Willa Sasso, members of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, sort some of the toys that will be distributed on Dec. 22 at the food pantry that Dick and Wynn Tinkham started 30 years ago. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

The Food Link pantry is hoping to provide toys for nearly 1,000 children from Indianapolis families in need this Christmas. Maria Sasso, from left, April Sasso, Wynn Tinkham and Willa Sasso, members of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, sort some of the toys that will be distributed on Dec. 22 at the food pantry that Dick and Wynn Tinkham started 30 years ago. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

The plan is special and simple in a season that focuses on the birth of a child and the difference he makes to the world.

Dick and Wynn Tinkham and April and Maria Sasso came up with the plan after 15,000 people were served during one month at the Indianapolis food pantry that the Tinkhams started 30 years ago.

As parents and families in need lined up for food in early November, April Sasso and her teenage daughter, Maria, started a sign-up sheet to provide toys at Christmas for the children in those families.

The list kept growing until nearly 1,000 children’s names had been added. Providing just one toy for each of the children from newborn to age 16 would have been daunting enough, but the Tinkhams and the Sassos decided to shoot for a goal that matches the magic of the Christmas season.

“Ideally, we’d love to give every child three toys to represent the gifts that the Christ Child received from the Wise Men—gold, frankincense and myrrh,” says April Sasso, a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. “One of the women who signed up for her children hadn’t had a job in eight months. She needed a little help with toys, and she was so excited about this. That’s when we knew we were doing something really wonderful.”

Equally wonderful is that six Catholic schools from the north side of Indianapolis have become involved in collecting toys for The Food Link pantry effort—Bishop Chatard High School, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, Cathedral High School, Christ the King School, St. Luke School and St. Pius X School. Toys are also being collected at several businesses and The Children’s Habitat, a preschool which one of the Tinkhams’ nine grandchildren attends.

The Tinkhams and Sassos are also seeking help from anyone who would like to contribute “gently used” toys to the project.

“The people we serve can’t afford food let alone anything for Christmas,” says Wynn Tinkham, also a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish. “We’re hoping that people will swoop up toys in their toy rooms or closets and share them with kids who wouldn’t have a toy on Christmas.

“We’ve done this for three years, but not on a major scale like this before. Our major project is food, but when you know there’s a deeper need at this time of year, you know you have to help. You have to open up your vision. That’s what we’ve been able to do in 30 years—dig deep and get to the real needs.”

Starting The Food Link 30 years ago resulted from another special vision of the Tinkhams.

They were enjoying an evening at the Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre in Indianapolis when they wondered what happened to the food that wasn’t eaten during the pre-show meal. After learning that the food was thrown away, the couple asked the theater owner, Doug Stark, if they could have the food for shelters around the city.

“Doug said ‘yes,’ and he’s been a big supporter of ours ever since,” Wynn says. “We began by filling our station wagon with food and taking it to a shelter where we fed 100 people per week. We’re in our 30th year of feeding the hungry. We’re now an agency of Gleaners Food Bank. In the last year, we’ve become the second largest pantry in the city behind [the] St. Vincent de Paul Society. We fed 15,000 people in October.”

“For a long time, we were a mobile pantry,” Dick notes. “We would take the food to inner-city churches, and the people would come in and help themselves to the food. It’s a passion for us. It’s seldom you have two people with the same passion. We work on this every night. It’s just reaching out to others.”

They have continued in their passion to help people in need even after Dick was diagnosed eight years ago with muscular dystrophy, a disease that progressively wastes away the muscles in the body.

“He would never let the disease step in the way of doing this,” Wynn says. “He still comes out to the pantry on Saturdays, and every night we discuss what happened that day and what needs to happen the next day. We just love to talk about it. It’s our mission.”

It’s a mission fortified by their faith.

“We always fall back on our faith,” Wynn says. “I’ve had to learn how to trust God. In the beginning, I was so afraid of making mistakes. I learned if you trust God a little more each day, anything can happen. I look at all the churches we went to when this was a mobile pantry. We got to know those people in their faith, and when it was combined with others, that was a really neat thing. Those churches have stayed involved.”

The need for help has grown so much through the years—especially during recent hard economic times—that the pantry is now located at the expansive New Wineskin Ministries in Indianapolis.

“In this economy now, we’re serving people who have never been in a food pantry before,” Wynn says. “We’ve helped 96,000 people since January. That’s a devastating number. A mother told me, ‘I couldn’t pay my rent if I couldn’t get food from you.’ Another woman had just lost her job—a good job—and her home. She said she had never been to a food pantry before. It’s heartbreaking.”

Still, the Tinkhams try to keep the focus on hope. The couple, who have been married for 37 years, believes the toy drive will provide more hope during Christmas.

“We love this season,” Wynn says. “We know we have the capability to do this. These people have nothing. You should see their faces when we tell them about the toys. The joy it will bring to them is amazing.”

As amazing as the feeling the Tinkhams have had in dedicating 30 years of their lives to helping others.

“We have fourth-graders who sometimes volunteer for the pantry,” Wynn says. “I tell the fourth-graders, ‘If you ask, God will direct you. If you want to know your role on this Earth, just listen.’

“I can’t imagine our lives without doing this. It’s overwhelming at times, but it means everything to help.”
 

(Anyone wanting to donate toys or help with the toy drive can contact the Tinkhams at 317-846-9112.)

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