ELKHART — Several local pantries and kitchens have found that collaboration, not competition, have fueled their ability to serve Elkhart County residents in need.
A group of organizations formed the Pantries and Kitchens of Elkhart County earlier this year in order to streamline service, provide help to one another and increase the chance of getting noticed in the process.
The coalition of pantries and kitchens in this group has been working at making a “transition from ‘me’ to ‘we,’” said Jim Piechorowski, grant writer for Pantries and Kitchens United.
At this time, the umbrella organization includes eight local pantries and two kitchens committed to serving the less fortunate throughout the county. This partnership has not only made helping people easier, it has also provided a safety net of support among the organizations themselves.
With help and guidance from important partner organizations such as the Food Bank of Northern Indiana and Faith Mission of Elkhart Inc. and a $10,000 grant from the Elkhart Community Foundation this fall, Pantries and Kitchens United has been successful as they enter the busiest time of year.
The advantages have been apparent in the sharing of resources among the group. If space, supplies or transportation of supplies become issues, individual organizations now have others to rely on for help.
Another advantage can be found in how they can serve clients. Sometimes, clients will come to a kitchen and also be in need of a coat or shoes. Even though that particular organization may not offer such amenities, they now have a working knowledge of someone within Pantries United that does and can steer the client to the place that can serve that need.
Piechorowski said the collaboration has also increased the ease in being accepted for grants. Applying for grants as an overall organization makes them a far more visible and viable option to those reviewing the requests.
“The thing I see it doing is a gleaning from one another spiritually and emotionally because this can be really ... sometimes you feel like you’re the lone ranger out there,” said pastor Frank King, who along with his wife pastor Lori King, run Guidance Ministries and God’s Kitchen.
“The encouragement that comes in numbers can also be a gleaning,” Frank King added. “It isn’t easy taking on hunger in Elkhart County.”
Even though each of the pantries and kitchens in Pantries United could be considered smaller players individually, Piechorowski estimated they combine to feed 40 to 45 percent of people in need in the county, whether through grocery bags or hot meals. Bringing those organizations together make them hard to ignore.
The group says they haven’t seen any downside yet to coming together. Despite being 10 different entities carrying the Pantries United banner, individual organizations’ initiatives do not get bogged down in any administrative process.
“I haven’t seen anything difficult come through, and if anything we’ve become more united in that we’re able to share because we’ve become aware of what each person does,” said Shelley Rose, executive director of Christ’s Commissary and Harvest Basket. “It’s worked out real well.”
The current success has the group looking to expand going forward, though they will be very deliberate about the process at first.
“We’re going to grow very slowly, not that we’re going to exclude anybody,” Piechorowski said. “As we get our transition more in place, it’s easier to absorb others.”
Membership in the group is simple, and they hope it eventually attracts more groups to join them.
“We’re not against anything other than hunger,” Piechorowski said. “We’re open to membership to anybody no matter how big or how small you are.”
He added that membership in the group means only one thing: “When we do things, you pay in sweat equity.”