Valparaiso food pantry opens in new location after flood
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.
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.