By Heather Lusk
The excitement in Theresa Hanners’ voice is palpable.
As executive director of The Caring Center in Lebanon, Hanners reopened the organization’s doors in September after the building was renovated.
“The board asked me, ‘What do you need to be successful and make your job easier?’’’ Hanners said.
After 26 years with The Caring Center, Hanners knew what needed to be done. The remodel created a safer environment for volunteers and clients, made the entrance flow more naturally and added more office space.
Work began in August. During the seven-week construction interim, the food pantry had reduced hours and operated in tents outside of the building. Walls and a dropped ceiling were removed, creating a more open floor plan. The ceiling and insulation were painted black and doors were moved for a more natural flow of movement. A door for donations was widened to easily accept pallets of food and other materials.
Hanners said the timing was perfect because The Caring Center is entering the season of giving and expects to receive 40 to 50 tons of food during the next few months.
“People think of other people (during the holidays),” Hanners said.
Residents in need
More than 10,000 people in Boone County are impacted by food insecurity, which means they don’t have consistent access to nutritious food. A quarter of those are below the age of 18. The issue extends to all corners of the county, including Zionsville.
The Caring Center provides food, clothing and shelter to those in need and helps families avoid generational poverty through classes ranging from nutritional cooking skills to life skills.
The majority of The Caring Center donations come from Zionsville in the form of food, monetary gifts and volunteering.
“I feel like we’re finally getting our mission known, especially to the people here in Zionsville,” board member Jane Buroker said. “I think it’s eye-opening to some people to see how much poverty and hunger we still have in Boone County.”
Decorating for a cause
St. Alphonsus Liguori Catholic Church is one of many places of worship that provides assistance to The Caring Center, leading food and clothing drives throughout the year.
The church will host a family gingerbread house decorating Dec. 8. Buroker hopes the holiday tradition will become part of the local fabric while bringing in donations and increasing awareness for The Caring Center.
The new event will be underwritten by the R. L. Turner family. All ticket sales and proceeds from hot chocolate and snack bars will directly support The Caring Center. Attending families are asked to donated either a canned food item or a new toy.
“We’re hoping that as kids are enjoying themselves and having fun building a gingerbread house, we can talk about what it means to give to other people,” Buroker said.
A morning and afternoon session are limited to 75 houses per session. Tickets and volunteer opportunities are available at TheCaringCenter.net.
A $25 ticket includes two seats and one gingerbread house. A $40 ticket includes four seats and two houses. The houses are on 8-inch by 9-inch bases and are pre-assembled so that families can easily decorate using the provided candy and frosting. Each house comes with a box for safe transportation after the event.
“We’re hoping that families come and have a good time,” Buroker said.
While many organizations collect toys to distribute to young children for the holidays, The Caring Center is the only one in Boone County that focuses specifically on gifts for Boone County teens in need.
“We want teenagers to know that they’re special, we’re thinking about them and we want to help them,” Hanners said. “Sometimes they get lost in the midst of everything.”
The Caring Center client families can shop for their teens during two days, selecting from donated hats, gloves, gift cards and clothing. They also can select a FUN PAK, which stands for Families Uniting Now Parents And Kids, containing games, baking materials or movies to provide free, family oriented fun.
Several Zionsville churches and Akard’s True Value will collect items for teens until Dec. 10. Last year, 112 teenagers received gifts through the program.
The Caring Center distributes 350 Thanksgiving meals each year, requiring a lot of donated food, such as:
- 700 boxes of stuffing
- 350 turkeys or chickens
- 500 cans of cranberry sauce
- 700 cans of broth
- 700 cans of corn
- 700 cans of green beans
Meals often include pies, donated by Christ Lutheran and St. Francis Episcopal churches in Zionsville. Typically, the churches provide notes with their pies, aiming to make the recipients feel less lonely and more encouraged. Elizabeth Davidson, a member of St. Francis, began leading the project three years ago with her now late husband.