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Portage pantry looking to raise funds to help finance a new, permanent home

Portage Food Pantry volunteers load an awaiting U-Haul truck in December with food as they moved from the old Garyton Elementary School to a new location at the First Presbyterian Church, 6225 Lute Road.

PORTAGE — Volunteers at the Portage Township Food Pantry know one thing for sure — hunger in the community is not going away.

The decades-old group is looking to raise money in a "Raise the Roof" campaign to help fund a permanent home. Their goal is to raise $25,000 by July 20. The funds will be used to leverage a $500,000 grant they are seeking through the Indiana Office of Rural and Community Affairs.

Plans are proceeding for the organization to construct its own 3,500-square-foot facility as part of a 12,500-square-foot building which will also house the township trustee and assessor office along with the Porter County Department of Health. The building is being constructed in a partnership between the county and township south of the present Porter County Annex on Willowcreek Road.

"The grant is the key," said food pantry president Joe Kasper.

The cost for the food pantry's portion of the project is $1.2 million, which includes the building, equipment and furnishings.

The pantry has been established in the community for over 30 years, initially operating out of a classroom at Willowcreek Middle School, then for many years from the former Garyton Elementary School on Central Avenue. Earlier this year, when the school district decided it was no longer cost-effective to keep the building open, the pantry moved to the First Presbyterian Church on Lute Road.

Kasper and Portage Township Trustee Brendan Clancy said locating the pantry adjacent to the trustee's office serves both organizations, along with their clients, in a more efficient basis. Pantry clients must qualify for services through the trustee's office. 

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The new space will also provide for consistent, efficient service and safe food storage, which will allow the pantry to purchase food in bulk, they said.

The joint project came out of needs for all three entities, said Clancy. The pantry needed a new home. The trustee's office was also looking for new facilities, and the county was looking to expand and renovate its facilities on Willowcreek Road.

"We decided, why don't we build together. It is a win-win for all of us," said Clancy, adding the county is also officially the applicant for the Community Development Block Grant and will act as a pass-through if the grant is approved. Clancy said the township traded property with the county, allowing the township building be located on the county complex and providing land necessary for a storm water project for the county.

Kasper said the need for the pantry is continually growing. It serves about 260 families per month, but added 22 families as clients last month alone.

Donations are being collected through the Porter County Community Foundation.* Anyone interested in donating should send them to the foundation, c/o Portage Food Pantry Fund, 1401 Calumet Ave., Valparaiso, IN 46383.

*This has been changed from the original, to correct the foundation's name.

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.