April 3, 2015

Faith, Hope and Charity / John Etling

‘That’s why we’re here’

Jenna Musgrove’s friend was in a bad place. Recently laid off, the single mom’s world revolved around trying to get food on the table, placing her in a cycle of worry where finding her children’s next meal was all she could think about.

Musgrove urged her to use the Bethany House Soup Kitchen and Deli Days program in Terre Haute, but she resisted.

“Others really need this more than me.”

“I’m not the kind of person who needs charity.”

And finally, “What will everyone think of me?”

Musgrove, one of several volunteers in the program ran out of the soup kitchen and assured her that a little help is nothing to be embarrassed about. What’s more, the ability to temporarily nourish her family through rough times is precisely the program’s point.

The program’s allocation of healthy offerings from cereals, grains, canned goods and meat from the Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank that supplies the Bethany House enabled Musgrove’s friend to feed her family and save her limited money to put gas in her car. This allowed her to find a job and stabilize her finances.

She later donated her car to a Catholic Charities program in gratitude for the help and to pay it forward for others.

“There are so many stories like this,” Musgrove says. “The other day, someone who used the soup kitchen while he was unemployed gave us a $100 donation now that he has a job again. Most people just need a little help for a little while, and that’s why we’re here.”

The program, which began 35 years ago, is supported entirely through donations. The local community helped grow the fledgling program substantially, says Ned, a retired businessman who volunteers and helps pick up donated food from one of the local college cafeterias.

What began with servicing a local transient population in the inner city affected by the financial downturn has since spiked with unemployment and layoffs, program director Dottye Crippen, says. “We used to serve about 125 families each month, but the program now serves at least 125 each week.”

“Moving from a stable place to an insecure one can happen quickly, and to anyone,” says Paul C., a local community organizer who went through a tough time of his own when his family bought a new home and couldn’t sell their old one.

“It really changes your daily outlook. When you can’t pay your bills, you worry about providing the basics. We were surviving on the bare minimum.”

Several others who were picking up food recently from the Deli Days program had similar stories to tell.

“It’s a blessing to us that a place like this is there for us. I really don’t know what we would do otherwise,” said one woman, who picks up food for her disabled husband and their children. Both she and her husband are out of work, and using the food pantry frees up income to buy school clothes for her children, she said.

Another came in with a friendly 1-year-old who used several sets of volunteers’ welcoming arms and the pantry’s table legs for walking practice.

“This program helps us right now,” she said. “We’d go hungry otherwise. We really need help.”

Across the service area in Clay County, Shelby Olson relies on a Terre Haute Catholic Charities’ Foodbank mobile pantry site to support her two 12-year-old twin sons. She too felt the sting of a downsizing, and decided to enroll in college to study nursing.

“You really can’t survive on just a job now; you’re not gonna make it,” Olson says of her decision to go back to school. “You have to have a career in this day and age.”

(John Etling is agency director of Catholic Charities Terre Haute.)

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