VALPARAISO — The shelves were not completely full Thursday at the new Hilltop Food Pantry, but it was open for business at its new location at 606 Union St.
Volunteers, members of the board of directors and community members held hands and prayed before the ribbon was cut. The pantry shelves were not completely full Thursday, but there were plenty of canned goods, toilet paper, mac and cheese and peanut butter. The new facility now has room for perishable items like eggs, milk and hot dogs.
Jennifer Wright, president and CEO of Hilltop Neighborhood House, described the red building as "the house that love built."
"We had no idea what would happen to us back in February, and, when the monetary gifts started coming in, we knew we would be able to build a new facility for the people who utilize the food pantry."
In February, during the heavy flooding, the food pantry lost half its stock at its former site at 554 Locust St. Once people heard about what happened, donations started coming in and the distribution site was changed to the nearby law school.
Wright said they received donations from $3 to $50,000, from people all over the country.
"We received 321 monetary donations, food and volunteer time," Wright said. "Many hands made this light work. Now we can start serving the families that need it most again. I love the facility. We call it the little red house."
Nancy Kickbush, a Hilltop board member, held back tears describing the opening of the new one-level facility.
"It's so wonderful the support the pantry received after the tragedy, and what Jen has done to create this has been wonderful," Kickbush said.
Janice Whisler, a volunteer with the pantry for two years, shared those emotions.
"I love that we can see what we have now, and now we can see what we need," Whisler said. "This is such a better setup for volunteers and clients. We can do things faster, and we are so thankful for the donors."
Wright said they served about 600 clients a month prior to the flood. Now, with the new facility and the new mobile food van, they will be able to serve about 1,000 a month.