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Hundreds line up for food distribution in Merrillville

Food Bank's Hope for Holidays Food Giveaway | Phoprovided

Food Bank's Hope for the Holidays Food Giveaway | Photo provided

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MERRILLVILLE — Mary Diaz surveyed bags of bread, potatoes, stuffing, and a turkey, but another box also stood out to the Portage woman.

“I’ve never seen a place like this that gave out boxes of make-up,” the Portage woman said. “A lot of us don’t have jobs, so we can’t afford make-up and things like that to make us feel like ladies, so that helps, too.”

Joined by her mother and aunt, Diaz was among an expected 600 Lake and Porter County residents who lined up, filling a ballroom and an adjoining hallway at the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza Theater Saturday morning, for a food distribution by the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana.

The event was the second in a week for the food bank, which set up a distribution in Valparaiso last week. The biggest sponsor was NIPSCO, which donated $20,000 to the food bank to buy mounds of frozen turkeys, piles of bread and rolls, tons of potatoes, canned vegetables and salmon and desserts and more.

While Christmas music filled the room, food bank workers joined volunteers from NIPSCO and Boy Scout Troop 561 from St. John to help.

The stories clients told were stories of tough times: 2013 has been a hard year; SNAP, or food stamp, benefits, cut off or reduced; unemployment benefits running out or resources spent caring for a sick family member.

Those stories were followed by expressions of gratitude.

“I’ve lost my job, and I’m struggling as it is, and the food stamps I get are not enough,” said Olivia Fritsche, of Hobart. “I don’t have nothing, no turkey, no ham, no nothing, and so I’m glad this is here.

“It’s so organized, and you can come here and get help and still feel dignified.”

Elizabeth Booker, a single mother from Hammond, celebrated her 20th birthday in line, holding her daughter. The woman does not qualify for food stamp benefits yet, and her part-time, minimum-wage job leaves her trying to make ends meet, she said.

“I heard about this (distribution) through Facebook,” Booker said. “I thought it was wonderful because the way they’re cutting back on food stamps for people who actually need it, so this really helps out.”

Organizers did not ask questions about income or economic situations, said Megan Sikes, communications and advocacy manager for the food bank. Whoever needed food just had to stand in line and get the help, she said.

“For anyone who’s willing to stand in that line, the vast majority of people who’re gonna take the time to stand in that line, they’re doing it because they need that food,” she said.

Hayden Kammer, 12, of St. John, just earned Tenderfoot status in his Boy Scout troop. He carried boxes and bags, set up tables, unloaded trucks and marveled at what he saw.

“Honestly, it makes me feel real good because it’s time for Christmas,” Kammer said in between helping people.

“I kind of think, ‘Wow, all these people are jobless,’ and it kinda shocks me. I’d love to do more stuff like this.”

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