Down a long hallway at the Lawrence Education and Community Center on Sunnyside Road is the entrance to The Sharing Place — a food pantry that helps thousands of hungry people every month.
On a recent Friday, the pantry was closed to clients, but volunteers were busy inside, unloading a shipment of 10,000 pounds of food from Gleaners, a statewide food pantry that distributes to local pantries throughout Indiana. That was more than their usual weekly delivery, said Sharing Place Co-Manager Hans Loyda, because Gleaners would be closed the following week for inventory.
Loyda led the way to the back of the pantry, where volunteers brought food in on carts and organized shelves. One of the items they had received from Gleaners was popcorn — boxes and boxes and boxes of popcorn. Twenty-six pallets-worth of popcorn.
Qualified clients are limited to a certain number of points they can “spend” on specific types of food each visit, Loyda said, but the popcorn was going to be free for the taking — and he expected it to disappear within a couple weeks. Other items are point-free, he said, but “in general, what we are telling people (is) the limit is when the shopping cart is full, then please go home.”
Loyda, who is originally from Germany, said the pantry serves more than 1,000 individual clients per month. With family members included, the pantry averages around 4,000 people helped each month who otherwise would go hungry. And, Loyda said, the majority are not regular customers.
“I would say there is less than 50 percent are coming more often than two times or three times (total),” he said. “Normally, when people are having an opportunity to make more money, especially when they’re younger — or people who are moving from other countries here to Indiana, they are then getting used to (the new life). And then they are sometimes getting better jobs, and as soon as they have enough money, then they’re saying, oh, (other) people can get (food pantry help).”
Among those who receive food regularly from The Sharing Place, many are senior citizens. Anyone in need can come up to twice a month to fill a cart, Loyda said, but even among the regulars, they generally take only what they need, leaving more on the shelves for others.
“If we think of some issues we are having, it is less than 5 percent,” he said of those who abuse the system. “The majority of people on a consistent basis say, ‘This is what we need, and other things we don’t need. And please give it to other people.’”
Loyda said he previously worked at a food pantry in Arizona, and it was the same situation there, with only a handful of people taking advantage of the charity.
“And what I’m also experiencing is that some of the people who need to pick up food, then they are saying, ‘Oh, we have kids who would like to volunteer here,’ or they are trying to volunteer here, as well,” he said.
Clients can, indeed, volunteer, he added, just not on the same day that they pick up food for their families.
In addition to the weekly Gleaners delivery, The Sharing Place receives regular large donations from Kroger, Wal-Mart and Meijer stores. Loyda said the stores benefit through tax credits for charitable donations, people in need get nutritious food that otherwise would be thrown away, and everyone benefits from less food waste.
It’s not just canned goods and boxes of stuffing mix, either. Loyda said they get donated milk, eggs, meat and produce from Gleaners, stores and food distributors.
The Sharing Place accepts donations from churches and individuals who just want to help, he said. What they generally tend to need is peanut butter, healthy cereal and household products, such as paper towels, toilet paper, dish soap and laundry detergent.
“The household products are becoming more important,” he said. “Sometimes when people are getting four rolls of toilet paper, they are very thankful of getting this because it’s relatively expensive, or laundry detergent can be easily cost $10.”
Getting those items through the food pantry allows more flexibility in household budgets for other expenses, he said.
The Sharing Place serves people living within 11 zip codes in Marion and Hancock counties. However, Loyda said, if someone from a “wrong” zip code comes in and meets the income guidelines, they will let them fill a cart to fulfill the immediate need, while referring them to a food pantry that serves their residential area.
The Sharing Place is part of Lutheran Child & Family Services. For more, visit lutheranfamily.org/what-we-do/sharing-place-food-pantry.html.
Volunteer opportunities at The Sharing Place
Like many nonprofit organizations, The Sharing Place food pantry relies on volunteers to maintain operations.
Co-Manager Hans Loyda said that when the pantry is open for clients, it needs 16 volunteers for the day — eight in the morning and eight in the afternoon. They are open for food distribution three times a week, so that’s 48 volunteers each week just to help operate the pantry for clients.
The pantry needs volunteers on other days to help unload and arrange food when they get deliveries from Gleaners and grocery stores. Loyda added that volunteers also can pick up donations from stores and make deliveries to people in need who can’t come to the pantry themselves, often because they’re ill or elderly.
To volunteer, visit lutheranfamily.galaxydigital.com/need.