ELKHART — Nearly 600 people picked up free food in just two hours Tuesday morning, July 9, at Life Tabernacle Church in Elkhart. The Food Bank of Northern Indiana brought pallets of food — including fresh produce — to the church for one of the organization’s mobile food pantries.
Right at 10 a.m., the scheduled start time for the food giveaway, a line of people had already wrapped around the building.
Donna Rios of Elkhart said while waiting in line that she heard about Tuesday’s one-day event from another area food pantry she visits on a regular basis.
“Most churches have food pantries once a month,” Rios said, adding that she goes to a food pantry once or twice each month on average.
“If things are pretty bad, I go three or four times a month to different places,” Rios said. “If I’m not short, I don’t go.”
Rios said food pantries are a big help as she tries to make ends meet each month. She added that she’s on a fixed income and has two sons, ages 17 and 19, who are mildly mentally handicapped.
“(The Food Bank of Northern Indiana) is a great organization,” Rios said. “They are very friendly and they carry a lot of food — even vegetables. And the meat is always good. I have never received any meat that was bad.”
Rios said she knows many of the people who were in line at Life Tabernacle on Tuesday. Many lack transportation, Rios said, so they carpool or walk to get to food pantries. Rios came with her best friend.
“Everyone should know about (the mobile food pantry) and come out and try it,” Rios said.
She moved through the line while keeping up a conversation with her friend standing nearby.
“This is what we do, we laugh and joke to keep us going,” Rios said. “You have to.”
Sheila Mortera, also of Elkhart, waited in line Tuesday with her mother, her daughter and a friend. She said she recently moved to Elkhart from Illinois and this was her first time coming to the mobile food pantry.
“We needed food,” Mortera said simply.
The group brought their own boxes to place food in, and Mortera commented on the fruits and vegetables available along with the other food.
“Vegetables are expensive in the store,” Mortera said. A woman nearby chimed in, “Everything is expensive nowadays.”
Mortera’s group arrived at the church at 9:30 a.m. Around 10:30, they were still waiting patiently with their numbers.
Denise Singh of the Food Bank of Northern Indiana said people who come to pick up food receive number stickers at check-in, then they can either wait in line or wait in their cars until their number is called.
“The numbers help them to save their place in line if it gets too hot to wait outside,” Singh said.
Singh said all the food at the Food Bank of Northern Indiana is donated by grocery stores or individuals. The organization does mobile food pantries once a month, and it has been a doing them in Elkhart for two years.
From January to June 2013, seven mobile food pantries occurred in Elkhart County, providing 46,504 pounds of food to 1,122 households according to Marijo Martinec, director of community impact for the Food Bank of Northern Indiana. On Tuesday, Singh said approximately 184 households and 597 people received food at Life Tabernacle Church.
Ruby Kilgore, church secretary, said six people from the church helped out at the food pantry on Tuesday.
“This is the third or fourth time the Food Bank of Northern Indiana has been here,” Kilgore said, adding, “Our church tries to be involved in any kind of reaching out to the community. Our pastor and his wife — they never say no. Whether it’s a big thing or a little thing, we try to stay involved.”
Kilgore added that more people showed up on Tuesday than any other food event the church has hosted before.
Tuesday’s pantry was first-come, first-served and those picking up food needed only to provide a photo ID.