October 11, 2019

Providence Food Pantry celebrates 25 years of service

During an open house at Providence Food Pantry in West Terre Haute on Sept. 22, volunteers Randi Everett, left, Grace Puller and Annie Williams smile behind boxes of items offered by the ministry. The open house was held to mark Providence Food Pantry’s 25th anniversary. (Submitted photos by Shayna Tews)

During an open house at Providence Food Pantry in West Terre Haute on Sept. 22, volunteers Randi Everett, left, Grace Puller and Annie Williams smile behind boxes of items offered by the ministry. The open house was held to mark Providence Food Pantry’s 25th anniversary. (Submitted photo by Shayna Tews)

By Shayna Tews (Special to The Criterion)

WEST TERRE HAUTE—Struggling people in one small, western Indiana community need not look far for help when putting food on their tables.

Providence Food Pantry celebrated 25 years of feeding the community on Sept. 22 with an open house at its facility in West Terre Haute.

“The first year, we helped 1,200 families,” said Providence Sister Joseph Fillenwarth, director of the food pantry since 2006. “In 2018, we fed 6,000 families.”

The volunteer-operated pantry, which is open once a week on Thursday mornings, was created by the late Providence Sister Brendan Harvey in 1994. She and a group of women from a few local churches dreamed of a way to serve the poor of West Terre Haute, recalled Sister Joseph. So began the food pantry.

When it started, the pantry served the community from its humble dwelling in the basement of the former St. Leonard of Port Maurice Parish in West Terre Haute. Sister Joseph said when the campus of the merged parish was sold in 2013, the Providence Food Pantry was suddenly faced with a one-week notice to vacate.

That’s when Accurate Insulation business owners Keith and Jamie Richey, members of St. Mary-of-the-Woods Parish in St. Mary-of-the-Woods, stepped in and offered the use of half of their building on National Avenue in West Terre Haute—rent free.

Four years later when the Richeys decided to sell the building, Sister Joseph said the food pantry was the first to get the news.

“We were offered the building for $30,000, and they only offered it to us,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Oh, that’s wonderful! But I don’t have any money.’ ”

Assistance came once again, this time through The Helping Hands thrift store, a non-profit in West Terre Haute that raises money for the food pantry and other local organizations. The group originally offered to give the food pantry $10,000 toward the purchase of the building.

“The next day, I got a call from the whole board,” said Sister Joseph. “A member had prayed that morning and felt called for Helping Hands to give all $30,000!”

The first thing the Providence Food Pantry bought for its newly owned building was a walk-in freezer and refrigerator, but this required the raising of more funds.

“I put a statue of St. Joseph where we were going to put the fridge,” explained Sister Joseph. “A couple came in and saw it and gave us $10,000. The Young Men’s Club of West Terre Haute gave $3,000.” It wasn’t long, she said, before the $25,000 needed to pay for the refrigerator/freezer was raised.

John Etling, agency director for Catholic Charities Terre Haute, was on hand to help celebrate the quarter-century anniversary of the Providence Food Pantry.

“I think the people that show up here—the faces, the hands, the feet—they serve as an instrument to do [God’s] work,” he said. “This is just a wonderful example of what a community can do if that’s what their hearts direct them to do, and I think God’s right here with us right now.”

Even age doesn’t stop volunteers from being the hands and feet of Jesus. Annie Williams, who turns 98 this October, is one of the pantry’s 40 volunteers—and has been since it opened in 1994. Williams said she has seen the work of the food pantry change people’s lives.

“I think this [organization] helps immensely,” she said. “We have a lot of people come in with lots of kids. We’ve got one family who comes here [with] 10 in the family. And, you know, it’s hard to feed that many. It really is. We give them a lot of food.”

Clients are allowed to visit once a month, Sister Joseph explained.

“The shoppers get to choose the quantity [of food] based on the number of people in their family. It’s like a great big grocery store. Everybody gets their choice.”

Providence Food Pantry receives donations of food and support from nine local churches and other organizations, including The Helping Hands, as well as government food help, said Sister Joseph.

During the 25th anniversary celebration, coordinators of the annual Hunger Bust Run/Walk presented the pantry with a check for more than $8,000, money generously donated from its eighth event, held in early September.

It’s understandable that the event’s co-coordinators are dedicated to the food pantry—they’re Jamie Richey and her mother Jeannette Wrin.

The run/walk “brings the whole community together to support the food pantry,” Wrin noted.

Sister Joseph said the donation will go toward a new roof for the food pantry, “the last big thing we need to fix in this old building,” which she also endearingly describes as “beautiful and warm and loving.”

Etling noted the connection between the mission of the food pantry and the act of Christ feeding the masses.

“I think that work goes on [here] today, following that example that Jesus gave us,” he said. “He always said that he would be found among the poor. If we’re really looking for him, then that’s where we’ll go to find him.”

Sister Joseph also sees a divine hand in the work of the organization.

“God works here,” she said. “It’s ‘Providence Pantry,’ but it’s the providence of God, not the Sisters of Providence. He keeps giving and giving and giving.”

(Providence Food Pantry, located at 701 W. National Ave., in West Terre Haute, is open on Thursdays from 8-10:30 a.m. Clients must have residency in West Terre Haute and may visit the food pantry once a month. For questions or information on volunteering or donating, call 812-535-2544. Reporter Natalie Hoefer contributed to this story.)

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