by Beth Stauffer

In this joyous season of abundance and reasons to celebrate with family and friends, there is a tendency to forget the sad truth that there are many people in our own community who may not know where their next meal is coming from.

Fortunately, there is a small but dedicated group of unsung heroes in New Haven who work year round to ensure that those from our community who are in need have food to put on the table.

Food Bank Helpers

The New Haven Food Bank, helmed by a staff of approximately 12 volunteers each week, operates simultaneously out of a small trailer and the fellowship hall at Emanuel Lutheran Church on Green Street every Tuesday from 9:00 am-11:45 am.  According to Pat Speaks, who coordinates the efforts of the food bank together with her husband Mel, in recent years she has noticed a growing trend of people needing the help that the food bank provides.

“We can have as few as twenty families that we serve each week, but just two weeks ago we had 70,” said Mrs. Speaks, adding, “we never turn anyone away who is truly in need.”

Everyone who receives assistance from the New Haven Food Bank must live in the New Haven district and provide proof of their current address by supplying a photo ID and a current piece of mail.  They can visit the food bank once every four weeks for assistance.

A majority of the food donations that the food bank gives away each week come from private donations from the community at large, but a few things come from the Associated Church’s warehouse, of which the New Haven Food Bank is a participating member.  According to the Associated Church’s website, its Neighborhood Food Program is a network of 28 agencies in Fort Wayne & Allen County that provide emergency food assistance to families.

In 2011, the Neighborhood Food Program as a whole provided service to 90,309 individuals which is an increase of 4,960 individuals in 2010.  This statistic is staggering, but even more so when considering that these numbers will most likely go up again when the year-end totals for 2012 are received.

“I wouldn’t be surprised the way that Christmas falls this year that next week will be extremely busy,” said Mrs. Speaks.  “We’ll be doubling up our weeks.”

With this is mind, the New Haven Food Bank is in need of essential items such as peanut butter, dry cereal, canned fruit, and canned ready to heat meals like raviolis and Spaghetti-O’s.  These items can be dropped off at Emanuel Lutheran anytime during church office hours of 8 am-4 pm Monday-Friday or on Sunday mornings.  Financial donations are also welcome, and can be dropped off at the church with the notation “New Haven Food Bank.”

While the food bank is primarily open to serve those in need by providing food that meets nutrition guidelines set forth by the Department of Agriculture, the volunteers also make reading materials available to benefit a family’s spiritual needs as well.  “We always have Bibles, hymnals, prayer books and devotionals for those visiting the food bank,” said Mrs. Speaks.

Perhaps even more important than the tangible items the New Haven Food Bank gives away is the sense of hope that the volunteers give to the food bank’s visitors each week.

“The week before Thanksgiving, we had a woman come in who had been coming to the food bank for a while, but her situation had recently turned around.  I thought she was here because she needed assistance, but what she actually wanted was for us to pick out a family to buy a Thanksgiving dinner for.  She gave us $40 to buy the food for the family we chose.  She wanted to give back in her own way for the help she had been given at one time,” said Mrs. Speaks, adding, “I get teary-eyed every time I tell this story.  It’s really why we do what we do.”

St. James Lutheran Church in New Haven is also a member of the Associated Church’s Neighborhood Food Program, serving local residents who reside in Adams and Jefferson Townships.  They are open on Thursdays from 1 pm to 4 pm.  To donate to this program, contact the St. James Lutheran Church office at 260-749-5232.)

POSTED: 12/12/12 at 8:32 pm. FILED UNDER: Church, News