A Giving Tree

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After H1N1 scare, a Westfield family pays it forward with community pantry

Don and Christina Stilts are making an impact in their community while instilling the importance of serving to their two sons. The couple started Stilts Spirit – A Giving Tree in 2011 after they felt a need to give back following a medical scare.

“Our initial mission was to teach our sons, Christian and Sebastian, the meaning of having a Godly heart through the giving of themselves and showing mercy and charity to others,” Don said.

Their oldest son, Christian, was diagnosed with H1N1 and pneumonia in July 2011 and the Stilts family spent 13 days at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital.

“Other patient families, doctors and staff all surrounded us with love. It uplifted us at a time that was dark and hard for us,” Christina Stilts said. “We were so touched. It meant a lot to us.”

In December 2011, the Stilts went back to the children’s hospital dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus and dispensed gifts to all the admitted patients and children in the ER.

“I was bawling the entire time,” she said.

Don and Christina returned again the following year but began looking for “something new and more impactful” last year. While serving on the community outreach committee of Imagine Church in Westfield, the Stilts discovered that one of the city’s public schools had 65 percent of its students on free and reduced lunch programs.

“We found the statistics alarming – and several other schools were almost as high,” Christina said. “These are our friends and neighbors. People are struggling that we don’t even know about here in Westfield.”

Christina said the 501c3 nonprofit started providing food for eight families immediately after forming. Since then the number has grown to 30. On April 26, A Giving Tree started a monthly community pantry for those in need at Ameriana Bank, 3333 Ind. 32, Westfield.

“We feed people on three fronts – food distribution, nutrition education and spiritual guidance,” Christina said adding the organization in nondenominational. “We provide them with information about different churches depending on what they are looking for.”

The distribution started on April 26. With the assistance of 45 volunteers, the Stilts provided food to approximately 400 people.

“We have been welcomed by them. They are so complementing in what we do. They leave after feeling renewed, with their dignity. We know it takes a lot of courage to ask for help. They shouldn’t be ashamed,” Christina said.

Food is provided through private donations and the Stilts have three gardens – one in Westfield, Arcadia and Sheridan – which provide a variety of organic produce and fruits like apples and pears.

Don said the pantry is designed to help families in Hamilton County but they will assist others.

“It’s for anyone in need and willing to stop at a food pantry,” he said, adding information about other area pantries is provided to non-county residents.

Among the volunteers on June 7 was the Lawson family – mother, Amy, and daughters, Brinti and Ashlie.

“I love being able to serve people and see them leaving with full carts. They go home with a couple weeks of food,” Amy said, adding she was not surprised by the number of people coming through to get food. “Having served before, I know there is a huge need in Hamilton County. There are a lot of needy people.”

Unlike her mother, Britni said volunteering was eye-opening.

“It is amazing how large the population is,” she said. “They’re lost in our own backyard. There is a huge need right here.”

Britni said the pantry allowed her to use Spanish.

“I don’t get to use it very much. I found it more helpful,” she said.

While the food distribution typically takes place on the first Saturday of the month, the next offering is 1 to 3 p.m. July 19 because of the Fourth of July holiday. For more information on volunteering or donating to A Giving Tree, visit www.stiltsspirit-agivingtree.org or e-mail StiltsSpirit@gmail.com.

“This is what we are called to do,” Don said. “Every dime we get goes back into bring food to the needy.”

Food Rocks 

Stilts Spirit – A Giving Tree has partnered with six 16-year-old students to combat hunger within Westfield. Together, with some assistance from a guidance counselor and two mothers, the Junior Advisory Panel have established a 10-week summer food program that serves 43 underprivileged Westfield Washington Elementary students during the summer.

“We could not be more proud or honored to be working with these young teens,” Christina Stilts said. “They share our organizations DNA and serve with a heart filled with compassion for these young students.”

Food Rocks began serving the community on June 13.


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