Gloria DeJesus calls the soup kitchen at St. Joseph Church in Hammond a "ripple in the pond."
"We are a small group in a large pond," she said.
The large pond represents hunger in Northwest Indiana, she said. The soup kitchen, along with dozens of other programs in the region aimed at helping to feed the hungry, are each ripples in that pond.
Small alone, but each ripple creates an expanding circle representing a widespread effort.
According to a study conducted by Feeding America in 2010, about 35,000 children in Lake and Porter counties are deemed "food insecure." That is 20 percent of the population younger than 18. In total, the study found that 16.5 percent, or about 108,000 people in the region, don't have enough to eat.
Hundreds of people, primarily volunteers, help the thousands throughout Northwest Indiana facing hunger either by providing meals or food through pantries and other programs.
Food Bank of Northwest Indiana
Behind the Village shopping plaza, just off Grant Street in Gary, is the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana.
Food passes through the doors to assist 115 agencies dedicated to feeding the hungry in Lake and Porter counties. Last year, more than 5 million pounds of food were distributed to member agencies, according to Megan Sikes, communication/advocacy manager for the food bank.
However, she said, there is a need for 25 million pounds of food to be distributed in the region, according to Feeding America, a national agency addressing hunger in the U.S.
The food bank receives much of its food through donations -- either local drives or from corporate or national donors. Much also comes by way of federal commodities, and still more is purchased.
The food bank is like the "Sam's Club to agencies," Sikes said. Each week, they prepare a menu to give to member pantries, soup kitchens and shelters. The agencies place orders. Some of the food is passed along free of charge; some must be paid for by the agencies.
Boxes, then trucks, are loaded with the food each week and either picked up by or delivered to member agencies.
Portage Township Food Pantry
On a recent Thursday morning, a box truck backs up to the door of the Portage Township Food Pantry. Offloaded are pallets of macaroni and cheese, rice, vegetables and assorted other foods ordered the previous week from the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana.
Volunteers sort and move the food to the nooks and crannies of the food pantry, one of the largest in Northwest Indiana. The pantry, located in the back of New Vistas High School, served more than 22,000 individuals within 747 families in 2011. Their 2012 numbers seem to creep higher.
The pantry is run by some 50 volunteers, said Bobbie DeKemper, director of operations.
While the food is distributed three Friday mornings and one Thursday evening per month, it takes a week for volunteers to prepare each distribution, DeKemper said.
They begin on Monday by taking donations and inventory of what's available. A menu for that week's distribution is made on Tuesday. On Wednesday and Thursday, more donations are picked up, sorted and stored. Some days volunteers spend up to six hours working at the pantry, she said.
In addition to getting food from the food bank, donations come from food drives, individuals and local groceries, and cash donations help buy what hasn't been donated.
"When I started, there were 50 clients a week. Now we have 150 clients a week. The number of seniors has increased a lot," said DeKemper, adding they are anticipating additional increases due to this summer's drought and rising food prices.
Manna for Hammond Soup Kitchen
Five days a week, volunteers put together a home-cooked meal at the soup kitchen located inside St. Joseph Church, DeJesus said. Each day, they serve between 125 and 175 meals.
"We are family. These people are just like you and I. It is a place for them to eat, to have shelter. They are all good people. A lot of them are the working poor," DeJesus said.
Each day, 12 to 15 volunteers from various area churches arrive to cook the meal, she said. The kitchen is run on donations.
"I make a menu for the whole month and try to go around and get donations," she said. "The numbers are going up gradually. We are seeing a lot of new faces."