Jordan Parker, right, a crew trainer at the McDonald's on U.S. 6 in Portage, hands out canned tomatoes Monday during a Pantry on the Go stop at Woodland Park in Portage. | PHOTO PROVIDED
The pantry’s next top will be from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday at Covenant Christian School, 611 15th Ave. Northwest, DeMotte. For more information, go to www.foodbanknwi.org, or call 980-1777.
Updated: August 25, 2013 6:08AM
PORTAGE — The lobby of the Oakwood Grand Hall at Woodland Park teemed with people clutching empty shopping bags Monday afternoon.
One of them was Tammy Backe of Hobart, who was making her third trip to the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana’s Pantry on the Go in recent months. One of those trips included the Hobart Elks Lodge, but by the time she got there, the mobile pantry was out of food.
To be on the safe side, she showed up in Portage about two and a half hours early, and she wasn’t even the first person in line. She also visits the pantry once a week in Hobart.
“I have to. My husband hasn’t worked in a year and a half and I don’t work in the summer, so I don’t get paid,” said Backe, a paraprofessional with Lake County’s special education cooperative.
Her daughters, one in college and the other in high school, also are home, putting a greater strain on the family’s food budget.
“It’s buy food or pay a bill. Sometimes that’s what it comes down to,” she said, adding the Pantry on the Go helps. “I never in a million years thought I’d do anything like this. Never.”
Officials with the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana said the need for food tends to spike in the summer, when children are home and not taking part in breakfast and lunch programs through their schools.
The food bank has been offering mobile pantries for five years. McDonald’s owners and operators now sponsor the program and provide volunteers for distribution as well as money to purchase food, said Megan Sikes, the food bank’s communications director.
The Pantry on the Go stops throughout Lake, Porter, Jasper, Newton and LaPorte counties. It starts in the spring and continues through the end of the year, taking a break for the winter months while the food bank does inventory.
“Maybe people don’t have transportation or can’t afford to get to the pantry, so we can get there and get it to them, so they’re not driving half an hour to get food,” Sikes said. “It’s also a good way for us to see it’s not just people in Gary, East Chicago and Hammond who need food, but people in Crown Point, Valpo and DeMotte. It’s a wide-reaching problem.”
Precisely at 3 p.m., Chanda Dixon with the food bank, who helped manage the Monday’s food distribution, opened the door to Oakwood Hall for an announcement.
“Thank you guys for your patience. We are about to get started,” she said to the waiting crowd of about 300 people, reminding them they needed identification of some sort to get food.
The group moved forward and then through the food line set up in the hall, receiving ham, canned fruit and vegetables, juice, noodles, bread, eggs and other goods.
The pantry had enough food for 300 families, Dixon said, adding it bases its numbers on previous visits.
The food disappeared quickly as people moved through the line, almost guaranteeing an empty truck would return to the food bank’s Gary headquarters.
“That’s usually the goal,” she said.