May 24, 2019

New Catholic Charities Terre Haute foodbank helps ‘close the meal gap’ for people in need

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson blesses the new Catholic Charities Terre Haute Foodbank building with holy water during a ceremony marking the opening of the facility on April 29. Assisting him is Conventual Franciscan Father Martin Day, pastor of St. Benedict Parish in Terre Haute. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson blesses the new Catholic Charities Terre Haute Foodbank building with holy water during a ceremony marking the opening of the facility on April 29. Assisting him is Conventual Franciscan Father Martin Day, pastor of St. Benedict Parish in Terre Haute. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

TERRE HAUTE—Standing before a crowd in his agency’s new foodbank building, Catholic Charities Terre Haute agency director John Etling shared a story about a local couple, Tina and Earl Elliott.

“They, like many of you, did not necessarily see hunger on a daily basis,” he said.

“As Earl once told me, he drove to and from work on the same route every day. He didn’t know that hunger was an issue in our community until he toured our old foodbank facility and saw food insecurity and poverty all around.”

He also shared a story that Tina “often tells of a bus driver friend of hers.” On the friend’s route was a student “who didn’t want to miss a day from school. … School was where that student [was provided] breakfast and lunch, and a day without school meant that those meals would be missed” because there was not enough food at home to feed the family.

The Elliotts were moved by what they saw and heard. So moved, in fact, that the couple, members of St. Benedict Parish in Terre Haute, agreed several years ago to chair the Catholic agency’s “Close the Meal Gap” campaign to raise $2.5 million for a larger foodbank and an endowment fund to sustain it in the future.

The 10,000 square-foot building where Earl Elliott spoke on April 29 in Terre Haute is the fruit of that campaign. He was one of several people who shared their thoughts at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Terre Haute’s mayor, local leaders and those on the construction side were also at the ceremony, as well as those associated with Catholic Charities Terre Haute and the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Charities.

And Archbishop Charles C. Thompson was present to bless the building.

15 percent lack food for ‘healthy lifestyle’

“What an incredible witness this [foodbank] gives,” Archbishop Thompson said to those gathered for the occasion. “It’s so much in line with Catholic social teaching and Scripture, especially the one Pope Francis constantly reminds us of in Matthew 25, that ‘what you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me’ [Mt 25:40]—feeding the hungry and all those things we’re called to do to be attentive to the needs of those around us.”

At 10,000 square feet—more than double the space of its former foodbank—and with room to expand, the new facility will allow Catholic Charities Terre Haute to help even more of those in a food emergency or food-insecure situation.

And as the Elliotts discovered, that number is great in the west central Indiana area the agency serves.

In an interview with The Criterion, the agency’s development director, Jennifer Buell, said the 2018 “Map the Meal Gap” survey conducted by Feeding America “indicates that more than 39,000 people in our seven-county service area are food insecure—they lack access to adequate amounts of nutritious food to lead a healthy lifestyle.”

She said that number equates to 15 percent of the area’s population—or one in seven individuals—who are food-insecure. For children, that number increases to 20 percent—one in five children.

The effects of a deficit of nutritious food on these individuals is more than just hunger pains, Buell added.

“Food-insecure adults are often more susceptible to bouts with depression, in addition to having adverse health effects due to poor nutrition,” both of which can affect their job attendance and retention, she explained.

For children, she continued, the lingering effects of food insecurity can last a lifetime, since lack of nutritious food can cause delays in physical and cognitive development.

“These children are more likely to repeat a grade in school,” she explained. “And as they move into the teenage years, these same children are three times as likely to have been suspended, twice as likely to have seen a psychologist and four times as likely to have no close friends.”

‘Equivalent of 2.5 million meals a year’

Once a month, the foodbank opens its doors to the community. And when called upon by local churches and organizations, it also sends a truck of products to create “mobile food pantry” opportunities in areas with either inadequate or no such service.

Buell said the foodbank “solicits, collects and safely stores about 3 million pounds of food a year.” And Etling touted that the foodbank provides “the equivalent of 2.5 million meals a year to individuals in west central Indiana.”

How are such statistics possible, given its limited direct contact with the community?

“We are primarily a warehouse and distribution center for 80 or 90 agencies that operate in our seven-county area,” an area assigned to the foodbank as a member of the Feed America emergency food network, Buell explained.

Like the network’s other 200 facilities, the Catholic Charities Terre Haute foodbank “partners with food pantries, soup kitchens, addiction recovery homes and anyone who provides emergency food assistance,” Buell said. “They pick up their needed food from the foodbank, then take it back and prepare it for meals or distribute it to families in their area.”

‘The timing was perfect’

The search for a larger space for the foodbank began in 2011. Efforts were made to purchase a building near the Terre Haute International Airport, “but that didn’t work out in the end,” Buell said.

So the search for a facility that could be renovated or a location where a new building could be constructed continued for several years.

“We were kind of at what we thought was the end of our options,” she noted. “And then we found out about the Yankee Steel building.”

The steel manufacturer’s building and grounds no longer fit the company’s expanding needs, so the structure and property were put up for sale.

“The timing was perfect,” Buell said.

Catholic Charities opted to raze the Yankee Steel’s sprawling plant to allow for the ability “to build up higher, so we have more volume by height as opposed to square footage,” she said.

While most of the facility’s 11 full‑ and part-time staff work in the warehouse and drive trucks to pick up available food, the new foodbank building also includes office space “outside of traffic flow, to improve productivity” both on the warehouse floor and for office workers, she said.

And as providence would have it, Buell added, the grounds offered an unexpected bonus.

“On the 14th Street side of the property stood a large steel cross the [Yankee Steel] owner put up when he moved in there,” she said. “When he moved out, he asked if we wanted the cross or if he could take it.”

The cross stayed.

‘A lot of work, a lot of people, a lot of years’

Rachel Tetidrick, administrative assistant at the main offices for Catholic Charities Terre Haute, was on hand for the ribbon cutting and blessing of the building.

“They had already laid the foundation when I started last August,” she said. “To see people have a greater sense of community and doing things for the greater good, seeing everybody come together—it’s all just wrapped up nicely. It’s great to see the culmination of all that come to life.”

Kris Gant expressed gratitude for the “amazing facility that helps us.” Gant is a member of The Bridge Church in Terre Haute, which utilizes the foodbank to offer “Celebrate Recovery” dinners for local homes that help those with addictions.

“The old facility was very organized,” she said. “I’m ready to see this [new one] in action, how it works and flows.”

Buell said the former building will still be used to provide products for a government program the foodbank assists. How the building will be used in the long run is still being discussed.

“The older facility was getting tired,” admitted Robert Doti, a member of St. Joseph University Parish in Terre Haute and a longtime supporter of Catholic Charities.

He said the new facility “has taken a lot of work by a lot of people for a lot of years to put together, so it’s nice to see it all come together.

“It’s a great addition that will be here to serve the community for a long time.”
 

(The new Catholic Charities Terre Haute foodbank is located at 430 N. 14 ½ St. in Terre Haute. For more information about the foodbank and other programs offered by the agency, go to www.archindy.org/cc/terrehaute or call 812-232-1447.)

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