HANCOCK COUNTY — Higher utility bills. Employment that slows or stops in the winter. Children wishing for gifts under the Christmas tree.

Leaders of county food pantries say these and other reasons lead to an increase in the number of people coming through the doors of those charitable organizations every year around Christmastime.

The Hancock County Food Pantry, which serves some 528 households a month, already is seeing a jump. The food pantry served about 615 clients last month, a roughly 16 percent increase compared to a normal month, said president Tom Ferguson.

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“The holidays put increased stress on the food demands of the household,” Ferguson said.

And the increased demand leads to a greater need for volunteers to guide pantry clients through the process of selecting food items, Ferguson said. The county pantry has a core group of about 150 volunteers but always is seeking more volunteers to unload food or help raise money, he said.

Smaller food pantries around the county see more hungry people come through their doors around the holidays as well.

Angel Connection Food Pantry has seen its number of people served double from about 30 individuals to some 60 people as the temperatures have dropped, said director Donna Foster.

The McCordsville-based pantry is supported by three different churches in the area and accepts monetary donations and donations of nonperishable food, Foster said.

Between the three churches’ pledges and donations from individuals, the pantry always has been able to see to its clients’ needs, but clients are starting to need more personal care items in addition to food, she said.

The pantry needs donations of personal care items and paper goods like toilet paper and paper towels, she said. Many of the clients the pantry serves are on a limited income and use the Indiana Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to purchase food, but SNAP can’t be used to buy items like toilet paper or personal care items, Foster said.

In addition, the small food pantry is collecting new or gently used scarves, hats, gloves, coats and sweatshirts, which it provides to people experiencing homelessness in the greater Indianapolis area, she said.

Smaller, church-based pantries like the one organized by Cheyanne Petry at Brandywine Community Church typically receive referrals of people in need from other organizations, particularly Love in the Name of Christ of Greater Hancock County, a Greenfield-based clearinghouse that connects people in need with church programs or other resources.

Petry said the Ruth’s Harvest Food Pantry typically serves 10 to 15 families a month, between church members in need and people referred by Love INC.

Rising heat bills in the winter months can leave people strapped for cash, she said, leading them to need help making ends meet and feeding their families.

When Love INC refers an individual, Petry schedules a time for them to come in and prepares bags of food for them ahead of time, she said. Then the person can just show up at the scheduled time and Petry or other church staff members will help them pack the food items into their car, she said.

Organizers at the Hancock County Food Pantry plan ahead to purchase additional amounts of food, knowing their number of clients will increase in the colder months, Ferguson said. And donors have adapted their generosity to reflect those needs as well, he said.

For about a decade, the county food pantry also has galvanized its efforts ahead of the holidays to provide Christmas meals to all of its clients, which include a full meal and a Wick’s sugar cream pie, Ferguson said.

“People donate hams and turkeys,” he said, adding the pantry doesn’t do much in the way of soliciting donations. “I think people know we have these special needs during this time of year, so they just take it upon themselves to be generous toward us.”

How to help

With colder weather comes a higher number of people needing help feeding their families, say food pantry leaders.

Those same leaders need help responding to the increased demand, including volunteers and food donations.

Here’s a list of food pantries throughout Hancock County.

Hancock County Food Pantry

741.5 S. State Road 9, Greenfield

317-468-0273

Angel Connection

7739 N. County Road 600W, Mccordsville

317-335-2253

Fortville United Methodist Church Pantry

115 N. Main St. (basement), Fortville

ffumc-in.org/missions.html

Groceries of Grace food pantry at Cross of Grace Lutheran Church

3519 S. County Road 600W, New Palestine

crossofgrace.org; 317-861-0977

Ruth’s Harvest food pantry at Brandywine Community Church

1551 W. New Road, Greenfield

brandywinechurch.org; 317-462-4777

Shirley United Methodist Church pantry

309 South St., Shirley

call 765-738-6732 to arrange donations

Know of another church food pantry in Hancock County? Let us know at dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com. Be sure to share current needs and the hours for donating and receiving food.

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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.