The Food Bank of Northwest Indiana distributes millions of pounds of food each year to families in need, but the organization believes fighting hunger locally requires more than providing meals.
That's why the food bank started its HOPE Project last year. The program sets out to break the generational cycle of poverty, said Chanda Dixon, the food bank’s youth program coordinator.
Through the program, the organization provides educational services to children at no cost to their families.
Megan Sikes, the food bank’s communication/advocacy manager, believes the HOPE Project gets to the root of poverty issues by offering tutoring that can help students be successful in school. She said the organization believes that success could lead to students obtaining quality jobs as adults to avoid financial issues.
The HOPE Project currently is available only to elementary school students in East Chicago.
Sikes said parents from other municipalities have inquired about the program being offered in other communities.
Dixon said the food bank plans to eventually expand the HOPE Project into more municipalities.
"The service is needed," Dixon said.
Funding is the issue that has prevented the food bank from offering the HOPE Project in more areas, Dixon said.
The HOPE Project meets Mondays through Thursdays at the Roberto Clemente Center in East Chicago.
Besides providing educational assistance, the food bank sends children home with food and information about healthy eating, Dixon said.
Sikes said the program hasn't been running long enough to draw any conclusions about the results of the HOPE Project, but parents with children in the program have indicated they are happy with the HOPE Project and it has helped their children in school.
During its first year, the HOPE Project was available to third-grade students in East Chicago. This year, the program has been expanded to East Chicago students in first through fifth grade, Dixon said.
Besides being East Chicago residents, students must receive free or reduced lunches to qualify for the program, Dixon said.
There are 18 students participating in the HOPE Project, and there are students on a waiting list, Dixon said.
Associated with the HOPE Project is the HOPE Scholarship.
The Northwest Indiana McDonald’s Operators have collaborated with the food bank to provide the scholarship, which started this year.
The first scholarships were awarded to 10 students from Lake, Porter and Newton counties. Each of the students received a $2,000 nonrenewable scholarship to apply toward their college tuition.
To be eligible for the HOPE Scholarship, students must have a minimum 3.0 GPA, participate in volunteer activities, demonstrate financial need and plan to pursue a degree in business management, hospitality or agriculture.
Dixon said she would like to have HOPE Project participants apply for and obtain HOPE Scholarships when they graduate from high school.
Visit www.foodbanknwi.org or call (219) 980-1777 for information about the HOPE Project or HOPE Scholarship.