Hunger is a huge issue in our country. It’s also an ongoing problem in the Region. The Food Bank of Northwest Indiana distributes about 4.2 millions meals per year and about 22,000 families receive food assistance in Lake and Porter counties through the agency each month.

Those who are helped by the food bank are recipients of the generosity of others — through donations and volunteering — and kids can be part of contributing to the cause.

Each year between 1,500 and 2,000 individuals volunteer time to help at the food bank, which is located in Gary, and kids age 8 and older are part of that volunteer pool.

Emily Cutka, communications manager, said there three ways kids can get involved as volunteers.

The first way is through sorting food that is collected at food drives. During the school year and particularly around the holidays, donations are delivered to the facility that need to be sorted into categories and inspected to make sure the expiration dates haven’t passed.

Another way that kids can help is by packing up food boxes for seniors in need.

“We need help to pack food for our direct food program, the CSFP (Commodity Supplemental Food Program), which provides a box of supplementary food for low-income seniors” Cutka said. “We rely on volunteers to make sure that happens and it’s really fun to see kids pack those. I like the juxtaposition of small kids helping to feed seniors and that full circle of community service. You never know what a difference you can make and even as a kid you can do something that helps someone else.”

Each month 880 boxes are packed to go to senior citizens in the area.

The third way kids can help as volunteers is in a program that will directly affect their peers. It’s a program in which meals are provided in backpacks to kids in need of food over the weekends. 

“It’s nice to see kids open their eyes to those families in a safe and empathetic way,” Cutka said. “It touches a lot of kids and helps them learn about community service.”

Volunteering at the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana can be a one-time occurrence or on an ongoing basis. Volunteer slots are available during the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. Register to volunteer at foodbanknwi.org/volunteer.

For those who aren’t able or interested in volunteering time at the food bank but still want to help, direct donations can be made. Kids can be involved in this by shopping as a family and letting kids pick out items to donate. Monetary donations also are welcome and help the food bank purchase needed items, often at a better discount than a typical shopper could get in a local grocery store.

Families also could work together to coordinate a food drive to provide donations to the food bank.

“There’s a form on the website under the ‘donate food’ tab. You can fill out an interest form to coordinate a drive and we’ll supply boxes and signage,” Cutka said.

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