October 22, 2021

Focus on bringing ‘people closer to holiness’ guides expanded food pantry

As the director of the Boulevard Place St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, Cindy Brown is all smiles about the improvements that were part of the recent physical transformation of the pantry building—improvements that have created a quicker, more comfortable shopping experience for people in need.  (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

As the director of the Boulevard Place St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, Cindy Brown is all smiles about the improvements that were part of the recent physical transformation of the pantry building—improvements that have created a quicker, more comfortable shopping experience for people in need. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

The powerful emotions that people share are always close to Cindy Brown’s heart, even on another busy morning when she is directing efforts to coordinate volunteers, replenish the food pantry shelves and load up a van to deliver bags of food to senior citizens in need.

“We’ve had people come up to the counter with tears in their eyes,” says Brown, the director of the Boulevard Place St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry on the north side of Indianapolis. “They’re embarrassed that it has come to this for them.

“It reminds us of how emotional it is for people who find themselves in this predicament. By the time they leave, we’ve settled them down and made them realize it’s OK to come, that we’re here for them.”

For nearly 40 years, that desire to “be here” for people in need has been the driving force of this food pantry. It’s also been the driving force of the recent stunning physical transformation of the pantry building that was unveiled in early August—a transformation three years in the making.

The warehouse space has quadrupled, the walk-in freezer and cooler have doubled in size, the shopping area has significantly increased, and so has the area where people wait their turn to select the food items they want, just like in a grocery store.

The waiting and shopping areas are also marked by what Brown calls a “bright, happy and welcoming” combination of colors that include lime green, persimmon and golden yellow.

“The clients beam about it,” says Brown, a member of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis. “You walk in and you just feel good.”

All the changes help create a quicker, more comfortable shopping experience. The changes also create a more joyful connection between the people who rely on the food pantry and the people who volunteer there—all leading to the one goal of the St. Vincent de Paul Society that hasn’t changed.

“St. Vincent de Paul wants to bring people closer to holiness,” Brown says. “As we interact with each other, we are brought closer. We get that closeness here.”

‘They care about their neighbors’

The people who rely on the pantry—930 households a month—share that sentiment, too.

“You feel the genuine love,” notes a woman named Debre. “They treat everyone with respect and the utmost consideration.”

Another client named Philip says, “The volunteers are awesome. The workers put a smile on my face every time I walk through the door. Bless them all.”

The new, transformed pantry building is the latest stage of its evolution to serve people in need.

Started in 1982, the food pantry had been located for nearly 30 years in a small, below-street-level room at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. That pantry had limited freezer and refrigerator space and was only accessible by outdoor steps that became treacherous in rainy and wintry conditions.

In 2010, then-pantry director Mark Varnau dreamed of a bigger, better and safer location with room for parking. A site was found on the northwest corner of 42nd Street and Boulevard Place—the present location of the pantry.

While the pantry’s physical space has expanded, so has the commitment from the north side Catholic community of Indianapolis. Five parishes—St. Thomas, St. Joan of Arc, Christ the King, Immaculate Heart of Mary and St. Luke the Evangelist—have collectively embraced the food pantry and its mission to serve people in need.

“All five parishes take a lot of ownership in the pantry,” Brown says. “There’s a lot of commitment, and the commitment has become solidified to not only donate funding but time, volunteers and food drives.

“It shows that they care. They care about the community. They care about their neighbors. It shows the unity among the Catholic churches. And it’s nice to meet people from the different parishes.”

As she talks, Brown sits in the waiting area where people come on Thursdays and Saturdays to select their own food items which includes meat and fresh produce.

In the waiting area filled with comfortable seats, there is also a wooden bench that is etched with the Bible verse of 1 John 3:18: “Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

For nearly 40 years, this food pantry has lived those words.

“I think we’re vital to those we serve,” Brown says. “We’re consistently here. They can count on us. They know they can rely on the pantry.”
 

(The pantry has drive-up service from 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays. On Thursdays, people can come inside the pantry to choose their food items from 10 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. People can also choose their food items from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. The pantry asks that people limit their visits to once a week.)

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