A Story about Growth:  The Mid-North Food Pantry

Once upon a time, in the city of Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, there were a number of very big, very prosperous churches located in and very near the heart of the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood.

There came a year, in the early 1970s, when many of the residents who had lived here for years and years, attending these big and prosperous churches and sending their children to School 60 and Shortridge, started to move away.  New neighbors began to move in.  The area changed and so did the membership of these churches.

Three of them, North United Methodist, Our Redeemer Lutheran, and Tabernacle Presbyterian, decided that the best way to provide stability to the changing Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood would be to join together as the Tri-Church Council.  Each church had its own small food pantry which distributed food and occasionally clothing and basic necessities to area residents who needed such help.  But their individual resources were limited, so items that could be offered were sparse and the quantities erratic. Whatever was available was stored in a closet and distributed at irregular times when someone asked and the church secretary or whoever was available went to the closet and brought out the requested items.  Nobody thought this was a very efficient, or even pleasant, way to go about helping neighbors.

So the churches of the Tri-Church Council decided that a better way to help residents of the changing neighborhood would be to consolidate their pantries: locating them in one space and contributing items from their pooled resources.  The first joint food pantry was housed at Broadway United Methodist Church (maybe because of the very large closet there).

In the meantime, the Tri-Church Council was so successful in its efforts that other churches wanted to join. And they did.  While the outreach focus remained on the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood, the roster eventually grew to include churches located in the Butler Tarkington, Meridian-Kessler, and Crown Hill neighborhoods.  Because the number of member churches was now greater than three, the group decided to call itself the Mid-North Church Council of Indianapolis, Indiana.  Its current members include:

  • Bethlehem Lutheran
  • Broadway United Methodist
  • North United Methodist
  • Our Redeemer Lutheran
  • Phillips Temple CME
  • St. Joan of Arc Catholic
  • Tabernacle Presbyterian
  • Trinity Episcopal

All the churches of the Mid-North Church council committed themselves to contributing food and money on a regular basis to the common food pantry even though some of them kept their own smaller pantries. The common pantry of the 1970s became known as the Mid-North Food Pantry, or more simply as MNFP, in the early 1980s.

With enhanced participation from the churches and because of the growing need for help in the community, the MNFP outgrew its closet and moved.  It moved several times, in fact.  One of its first homes as the MNFP was in the building which is now the Raphael Health Center.  The MNFP was in the basement, which clients could get to by descending some outdoor scary-looking stone steps, and consisted of two rooms:  one for reception and one for storage.  Our brothers and sisters in need, our clients, were provided with a bag or two of whatever food was available. The first paid part-time manager was hired to oversee all the operations.  With the help of volunteers, he supervised deliveries of donations to shut-ins and the elderly, ordered food from Gleaners and other suppliers, picked it up, stocked it, distributed it to clients who came once a month to its space, and delivered it to shut-ins.

During the 1980s, a board of directors was formed with representatives from each of the Mid-North Church Council churches and the Mapleton-Fall Creek Neighborhood Association to provide direction and assistance as well as the impetus for growth in service and professionalism.  Client numbers grew from a mere handful of families to more than 100 individuals.  Both the professionalism of the board and the number of clients continued to grow through the decade and into the next.  The MNFP applied for 501(c)3 status in 1999 and elected to remain an Affiliated Agency of the Mid-North Church Council, which it is to this day.

At the beginning of this century, the MNFP continued its growth by moving to bigger quarters at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church where there were not only large reception and storage areas, but also space for intake processes and an office which was shared with the Mid-North Church Council.  This home was light and airy with lots of room for the many volunteers helping our General Manager, as well as our clients, each day the MNFP was open. The MNFP adopted certain food-handling procedures, called TEFAP, required for agencies which receive government commodities for distribution and passed all inspections by the health department.  A generous gift of computers allowed the MNFP to begin keeping durable records of all its transactions.  Expansion of the service area meant that eligible clients could come from not only the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood but also as far away as 52nd Street or 22nd Streets on the north and south with Boulevard Place and Andrew Brown Street on the west and east.

The MNFP received approval of its application for 501(c)3 status in 2004.  At that time, the client system included 400 to 450 client families who received food and basic necessities once each month on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday.  The volunteer pool grew.  “Client Choice,” a system that empowers clients to choose the foods they want from a “menu,” was installed.

In 2009, the MNFP moved to even larger quarters in the lower level of the newly-refurbished and newly-named Trinity Outreach Center at 3333 N. Meridian Street.  This space is more accessible to our clients as it is on a bus line, has ample off-street parking, and an elevator.  It also has a separate area where clients can personally choose the foods they want off the shelves and from cooling units, giving new meaning to the term “client choice.”

After years of struggling to keep food on the shelves and the doors open, the MNFP finally realized sound financial health in 2010.  While the churches of the Mid-North Church Council continue to provide the backbone of its support, other churches from all parts of Marion County, Indiana have joined its cause by donating money each year as have area businesses and other organizations, including some from out-of-state.  Food drives in these organizations, schools, and civic and philanthropic groups have helped keep the shelves stocked with canned and boxed goods, perishables, and bread.  Members of the working MNFP board also contribute valuable time and treasure in the course of stewardship, valued at many thousands of dollars each year.  A long-term strategy for growth in many dimensions, including forming partnerships with other service resources and expanding the MNFP’s financial base, was developed in early 2011.

Also in 2011, the MNFP was able to realize a long-held goal:  to provide not only a greater quantity of food that’s truly nourishing, but also information and education about nutrition and nutritional cooking classes.  Begun with great success in fall through a generous 1-year grant, this program has attracted an impressive array of partners and additional funding opportunities.  The MNFP expects this program to become a model for other pantries both locally and nationally.

From its humble beginnings in a basement closet of a neighborhood church, the MNFP has become the second largest food pantry in Marion County after St. Vincent de Paul.  This is only partly due to the ever-growing number of people who need assistance to stave off hunger and food insecurity, but also to the long tradition of service exhibited by the MNFP during its nearly 40 years of existence. Today, we find that the impetus for growth comes not only from the board and our expanding roster of clients, but also from the demands of a new age of efficiency and accountability, the awareness that individuals and families in our broadened catchment area deserve a broader range of food-related services (such as nutritional counseling and cooking classes), and the desire to continue to live up to the high standards of service we, our brothers and sisters in need, and our supporters, expect.