Joining Forces for Good

COVID-19 can't stop hard working
volunteers with food giveaways

Several groups in Madison, Ind.,
are ready to meet the demand for food

(May 2021) – Much has been said and written about the effects that COVID-19 has had on the region. With the economic downturn, one would think that local food agencies would be overwhelmed with requests for help. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, according to local food pantry officials.
According to John Bush, who heads up the House of Hope in Madison, Ind., “We have actually seen a drop in demand for our services by 40 percent. Normally, we service three to 400 clients a month, but in the last couple of months, we have only had a little over 200. In our monthly Zoom call of the county Non-Profit Council, I found other agencies are experiencing a similar situation. Agencies that provide monetary help for electricity and rent were all reporting a decrease in demand for their services.”
Bush continued, saying, “The probable answer for this situation is the influx of government funds and regulations.

Jon Bush

Photo by Ben Newell

John Bush leads House of Hope, which was created by five Madison area churches to meet food needs.

Because of the federal stimulus bill, some of these groups are sitting on money that is not being used. Many of our food clients are getting double food money from the federal government. While we always celebrate when people don’t need our help, we also realize that this is probably temporary, and we need to be ready when demand goes back to normal.”
House of Hope began in 2013 when two pastors and representatives of five churches came together to discuss how church food pantries could do a better job in serving the community. They found that they were serving many of the same people, with limited resources and volunteers. They came to the conclusion that they could do a better job if they combined their efforts.
That became possible when the Clearing House organization was established and they procured their building on Second Street. It has a large lower space that opens up to First Street.
The church pantry group organized into the House of Hope and was given the lower space of the Clearing House to operate. Bush, a retired pharmacist, was chosen to head the organization and has been leading it ever since.
Now 17 local churches are part of the organization, and it also receives funds from grants and individuals.
“People in our community have been extremely generous,” said Bush.
“While unloading cans from a Christmas food drive sponsored by Edward  Jones Financials this past Christmas, a lady stopped and asked what we were doing. When told, she proceeded to write us a check for $1,000. The 4-H livestock auction is now sending us thousands of pounds of meat after the fair. And we have a lady in Clark County who regularly raises five hogs for us. These are just a few of the ways this community has been so generous.”
A brand new food organization that has really taken off during the pandemic is the elementary Backpack Program.
“We got started when a group of Presbyterian Church members were discussing how we could demonstrate the love of Christ to our community,” said Connie Huntington, who heads up the program. “Someone suggested sending backpacks full of food to help the families get through the weekend. Unfortunately, some of our children’s families really need help over the weekend when they’re not eating the school breakfast and lunch during the week.”
The Backpack Program is under the umbrella of the House of Hope and uses its facility to store and load up food bags. Volunteers meet for a couple of hours each Thursday morning and load up 120 bags that go to the five schools that they serve. Their bags include various items like fresh fruit, peanut butter, canned soup, macaroni and snacks.

Connie Huntington

Photo by Ben Newell

Connie Huntington leads the elementary school Backpack Program, which was created by a group of Presbyterian Church members in Madison.

“God has blessed us in supplying money for the program through grants and individual donations, and the volunteers have a good time working at it,” says Huntington.
A major giveaway food group is the North Madison Christian Church. Judy Skiles, who has been involved in the program since its inception 13 years ago, is now its leader. The church has a give-away once a month, usually on the last Saturday.
“We normally have a shopping experience where our clients can choose their meat, fruit, produce and snacks,” Skiles said. “Because of the pandemic, we now have a drive-through where the people pick up their prepared sacks. It’s more work for us, but we just want to help the people.”
“Before the virus hit, we would normally have 200 to 280 people pick up food,” Skiles said. “After the pandemic hit, we were closed for a couple of months, and when we re-opened, our numbers were way down. Since then, the numbers have been rising, and we are close to being back to where we were.”
The largest provider of food in Jefferson County is the Salvation Army. Under the leadership of Captains Justin and Stephanie Hartley, it normally provides 40,000 meals per year.
“We were like everyone else when the virus first hit,” Justin said. “We had to shut down for awhile until we could figure out how to provide our services safely.”
When asked about the Kettle Christmas program, which helps pays for those meals, Stephanie replied, “We reached our goal through the generosity of our supporters. Most of our events are back to normal, with the exception of our youth program. We’ve had to start and stop it several times, and we’re still not where we want to be.”
One thing that consistently comes through in all of these organizations is that they are thankful for all the generous support that has been given by their community.

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