Carmel United Methodist’s food pantry offers help to people who never thought they’d need it
By Dawn Pearson
Carmel United Methodist Church’s Mission House has been supporting Hamilton County residents in various ways for 21 years. The mission started in a closet in the church and has moved to its own house on the church’s property.
Dave Coleman and Natalie Oehler are co-coordinators of the Mission House’s Food Pantry that is also the home of Second Starts and Comfort Closet.
Oehler said her dream is to keep helping people and building the space into a huge mission house to help all walks of life.
Second Starts collects houseware items for people would are transitioning into stable housing.
“We help people who have had bad luck or made bad choices that are starting over, so we get them the household goods they need to set up a nice place to live,” Oehler said.
Comfort Closet collects and distributes new and gently used clothing and outerwear to children in Carmel Clay, Hamilton Heights, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville, Westfield, Washington and Marion-Adams school districts in a “quiet” way according to Oehler.
“It’s for grades k-12, and we work through the Hamilton County schools to find out what students need and then the clothing items are donated in more of a less public means so these kids aren’t embarrassed or feel they will get made fun of,” she said.
‘Could be bare tomorrow’
But feeding people takes top priority.
“Hunger is a year round issue. The food need is 12 months a year, and even though our shelves are full today, they could be bare tomorrow,” Coleman said. “We have been tallying the number of families we’ve served for the past few months and the number is growing by the day.”
He said that in 2008 they were helping roughly 90 families a month. Today they help almost 300.
Coleman said they served this 275-300 families per month which adds up to more than 1,000 people fed per month.
“It’s been overtime with the increase of number of families we are helping due to the times, and it’s not just the poor it’s all people throughout our community,” he said.
‘Where we can really help’
Coleman said they also help a lot of immigrants.
“We have several Egyptian and Russian families, and a lot of people from the Baltic area and Hispanics, but they are only half of the people we help,” he said.
Who are the other fifty percent they serve? Both Coleman and Oehler agreed they are the “I can’t believe I need this or the I can’t believe I’m here families.”
“They are the working poor who can’t make ends meet these days due to life’s circumstances, such as needing a new set of tires, or higher utility bills, and they have to choose between buying tires to go to work or feeding their families” Oehler said. “This is where we can really help.”
‘It makes me feel good’
Volunteers Sam and Janet Haskett have been helping for more than eight years not only donating their time but also donating a variety of fresh food and fruit. Sam keeps track of the people as well and said the increase in families coming to the pantry is due to circumstances of today’s economy.
“Most of the people we are able to help are only temporary because they lost their job, or employer had to cut hours, and they are only with us two or three months, then they find a job,” he said. “I hear this a lot because they now have to pay for health insurance they can’t afford, they need help.”
The suburban mission house workers try to make people feel comfortable in a grocery store style set-up. Oehler said they listen to their customers and don’t have anything on the shelves or freezers that she wouldn’t eat and feed to her family.
How do they successfully run such a great mission house?
“Through countless hours of volunteers, donations, charitable contributions and just the great members of our church and community,” Coleman said.
Oehler’s seven-year-old daughter Bailey also volunteers.
“It’s just fun helping people and it makes me feel good,” she said.
Could you use help?
Mission House hours:
Monday 1 to 5 p.m.
Tuesday 1 to 7 p.m.
Wednesday and Thursday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Saturday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.