MERRILLVILLE | The Food Bank of Northwest Indiana was able to warm up hundreds of families Saturday morning in weather as a bleak and biting as in a Dickens novel.
The nervous and empty-handed lined up outside the Radisson Hotel's Celebrity Ballroom West and walked out through the parking lot smiling despite a chilly rain, many pushing carts with small bounties of fresh and canned produce and protein for upcoming holiday dinners.
Patricia Hall, of Merrillville, a volunteer from North Shore Health wearing a headband with small Santa heads bouncing over her noggin, was one of many volunteers replenishing the food tables. Young men in Boy Scout shirts lifted cardboard boxes full of food into needy families' cars.
The food bank, which is in its 31st year, and NIPSCO sponsored the Hope for the Holiday event.
"It's been a success," Megan Sikes, communication and advocacy manager for the food bank, said shortly before noon as the final recipients filed into the ballroom.
NIPSCO not only donated $20,000 for the purchase of the food, but had employees taking part in the distribution. Sikes said the food bank serviced 300 families last weekend in Porter County and was expecting another 600 to walk through the lines Saturday.
The food bank asks those interested to bring bags or boxes to carry items home as well as identification for proof of Indiana residency.
"We don't ask people for proof of income. We figure it's such a humbling experience to take the time to stand in line that only the truly needy come out," she said.
Hall said the food bank had to turn aside some who arrived too late, but added a Pantry On The Go event is set for 3 to 5 p.m. Monday at the Genesis Convention Center in Gary. Free grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy and protein will be available while supplies last.
The food bank works in association with 93 pantries and soup kitchens in Lake and Porter counties, serving more than 5,000 people each week. Last year the food bank distributed 5 million pounds of food.