Val­paraiso food pantry opens in new lo­ca­tion af­ter flood

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - News - By Amy Laval­ley Post-Tri­bune

The Fe­bru­ary day when wa­ter be­gan to flood Hill­top Neigh­bor­hood House’s base­ment food pantry, Sue Ken­ning was work­ing as a vol­un­teer.

She re­called the trickle that even­tu­ally flooded out the pantry with 6 inches of wa­ter, forc­ing the pantry to throw out more than half of its much-needed food and to move to a tem­po­rary lo­ca­tion at Her­itage Hall nearby, at the Val­paraiso Univer­sity School of Law.

On Thurs­day, Ken­ning, of Union Town­ship, was one of more than 40 peo­ple who gath­ered at the new pantry, at 606 Union St., to cel­e­brate the new lo­ca­tion, con­structed to look like a red house, com­plete with a porch.

“It was a bless­ing in dis­guise, re­ally,” she said.

Jen­nifer Wright, Hill­top’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, also re­called the flood, caused by heavy rains, and the af­ter­math at the old pantry, lo­cated in the base­ment of Walt’s Place, 554 Lo­cust St., and stand­ing in rub­ber boots, throw­ing out food.

Once the pantry’s plight gained trac­tion in the lo­cal me­dia and so­cial me­dia, though, do­na­tions started com­ing in, the first from New Jer­sey, that would even­tu­ally be used for what Wright called “the house that love built.”

“Be­fore we knew it, we raised $150,000 to raise this build­ing,” she said, adding that was the ex­act cost of the new struc­ture.

Do­na­tions came in all sizes, from com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions and in­di­vid­u­als alike. Wright re­called a dirty en­ve­lope with $3 in it.

At street level with con­crete floors, a load­ing dock, com­mer­cial-grade freez­ers and new shelv­ing, the new pantry should be able to serve its grow­ing client base, Wright said.

The pantry served 600 clients a month be­fore the flood and now, with a new mo­bile unit, the Project 64 van, the pantry can go out into the com­mu­nity to de­liver food, Wright said. The van is named for the num­ber of hours a child may go with­out a meal be­tween Fri­day and Mon­day.

“This is al­ready booked up al­most through Christ­mas,” she said, adding the van was sev­eral years in the mak­ing and the pantry re­ceived it in Au­gust.

Clients were on hand for the cel­e­bra­tion as well, in­clud­ing Elaine Willis of Val­paraiso, who has used the pantry off and on since around 2014.

“If it wasn’t for com­ing here, I wouldn’t have had a lot of ex­tra in­come to spend on food,” she said. “I was re­ally ex­cited to come back know­ing they were go­ing to serve ev­ery­one.”

Amy Laval­ley is a free­lance re­porter for the Post-Tri­bune.

AMY LAVAL­LEY/POST-TRI­BUNE

Ben Pol­he­mus, pas­tor of com­mu­nity en­gage­ment at Lib­erty Bi­ble Church, leads mem­bers of the com­mu­nity in a brief prayer dur­ing a Thurs­day rib­bon-cutting for Hill­top Neigh­bor­hood House’s new food pantry in Val­paraiso.

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