June 06, 2012The orange bags are back. Actually, they never left.
The bright orange bags are an effort started by the Crawford County United Ministries before Thanksgiving last year to collect food for those in need in the county.
In a joint effort with First Savings Bank, CCUM placed the bags at each of the bank's three county branches — English, Leavenworth and Marengo — where customers could grab one, fill it with a list of suggested nonperishable foods and return it during their next visit to bank.
The campaign was a success, with upward of 400 bags of food collected, helping CCUM, at its Leavenworth pantry, assist 380 families between November and January.
"It was wonderful. People were responsive," volunteer Laura Zipp said.
"A lot of people were trying to fill the whole list," Bobby Kelly, president of CCUM and associate minister at Hillview Christian Church near Marengo, added.
Gail Reyling, who has served as volunteer director of the food pantry since 2002, said there wouldn't have been enough food to distribute if not for the orange bags.
"And that is with the understanding that we get food from (several) other organizations," Kelly noted.
Unfortunately, once the holidays were over, the number of bags being filled and returned dwindled, as people likely believed the campaign was just for the holiday season. The effort, however, is year-round, with the bags now also available at the MainSource bank in Marengo.
Reyling said the need is real, explaining that, although the food pantry is in better shape than it was a year ago, the number of people being served has increased. From young parents struggling to make ends meet to senior citizens whose prescription medications take up the bulk of their fixed incomes, the food pantry is helping all segments of the community, she said.
Particularly troublesome, she said, is the number of people needing assistance hasn't decreased despite there now being more food banks in the county.
"We're still picking up," Reyling said, adding the need is real.
She pointed to a mother of six children — only one of whom is school-age — who had just visited the CCUM food pantry. The high cost of child care makes it difficult for her to have a job, Reyling said.
"If you've got five pre-schoolers, you can't go to work," Reyling said.
That isn't the only case like that, Zipp said, pointing to a family of nine. The father works, but the mother is a homemaker who takes care of their seven children, she said.
Reyling said the food pantry, which limits visits to once a month, also sees several blended families, from older people who are raising their grandchildren to younger couples who are taking care of their parents and grandparents.
"It's just a mixture," she said, adding more people are moving in together in order to share expenses.
"People," Zipp added, "are getting creative on how to make it because it's hard times."
However, it's not just families and locals who need help. Zipp told about an unemployed veteran looking for a job, and Reyling said she took food four times to a transient man with a baby.
In addition to the food pantry, which serves an average of more than 100 families each month, CCUM also has an assistance program to help with necessities such as rent and utilities.
While CCUM has received monetary donations for both the assistance program and food pantry, the orange bags have provided an easy way for people to help, Reyling said. She told of a young boy who, instead of gifts, asked those attending his birthday party to bring food to give to the pantry.
"It's people helping people within the community," Zipp explained.
The food pantry, located in the basement of the Leavenworth Community Center, is open on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but persons in an emergency situation may call 739-2785. Those wanting more information about the assistance program, including an application to see if they qualify, should call Zipp at 1-812-653-8676.
Monetary donations may be mailed to Crawford County United Ministries, P.O. Box 133, Marengo, IN 47140. Make note of which program — either the food pantry or the assistance program — the donation is intended on the check's memo line.
Persons with any of the orange bags are asked to return them to any First Saving Bank or MainSource location in the county, filled or unfilled, so they can continue to be used.