Food for thought: Churches, pantries provide weekend food for students in need

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FORTVILLE — They’re lined up on the low tables for an assembly line: cans of stew, jars of peanut butter, cups of instant soup or ramen noodles, packets of oatmeal, cups of diced peaches, and raisins.

On a Friday morning, FOUR women at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church gather in a preschool-age classroom in the parish center to fill plastic grocery-style bags. They loop the bag handles in a certain way, keeping the bag closed but easy to reopen — and easy to pick up and quietly drop into a student’s backpack.

Fortville-area churches and Fortville Area Resource Mission (FARM) partner to make sure students in the Mt. Vernon school district who could use a little food to carry through the weekend have it available.

After the St. Thomas group packed 30 bags, they loaded the parcels into the back of an SUV to deliver them to Fortville Elementary School.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” said Jonnie Gehring.

Churches rotate each month in filling the bags for Fortville Elementary; New Life Christian Church, Fortville Christian Church, Fortville Church of the Nazarene and Mercy Road Church Northeast also participate. Parishioners donate items for the bags, and a team at a different church each week packs them and delivers them. When there’s a fifth Friday in a month, FARM covers that.

There are similar arrangements for other Mt. Vernon schools. For example, FARM packs 40 food bags each week for Mt. Vernon Middle School students. Anne Lesch at Vineyard Community Church at Mt. Comfort’s food pantry organizes the packing of 20 food bags for children at Mt. Comfort Elementary School. The Angel Connection food pantry in McCordsville is also part of supplying weekend food for some Mt. Vernon students.

Similar support is offered in other districts in the county, such as Hancock County Food Pantry partnering with Eastern Hancock for weekend food and a group of women at New Palestine United Methodist Church packing weekend food for New Palestine Junior High School students who could use it. This summer, Greenfield Intermediate School, Greenfield Central Junior High School and Greenfield-Central High School will be the site for free summer breakfasts and lunches for children.

The bags the Mt. Vernon-area churches are packing look just a liffle different from church to church and school to school. Lesch gathers something with meat, such as spaghetti-o’s or ravioli. The bags also include granola bars, jello or pudding cups, and juice or shelf-stable milk.

“We try to get some protein,” she said. “Just things that will get them through a weekend.”

Lesch and Erin Flick, FARM’s director of daytime food distribution, are writing a grant request to cover all of the backpack food for Mt. Vernon for the 2022-23 school year.

Educators tend to know which students could use the weekend food and help make sure the nondescript grocery bags discreetly land in the right backpacks.

Maria Bond, Mt. Vernon’s director of community relations, said the school district is grateful for the suppor the community offers its students.

“Students learn better when they are functioning on all levels, including being well nourished,” she wrote in an email. “… The weekend food from our local churches has had an incredible impact in supporting our students. We are truly grateful for their generous, caring efforts!”

“We know that there’s people out there hurting,” Lesch said. “We want to … have a heart for the poor like Jesus did. We want to walk alongside the people of this community who are suffering or in need.”

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