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A sign promoting the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana has been installed outside of its new location. Food bank officials said the organization has attracted more awareness since moving into the new building.

GARY — If you like good food, good wine, good company, all for a good cause, the Soirée for Foodbank of Northwest Indiana was the place to be.

Set recently in the Gary Aquatorium in Marquette Park, the fourth annual Soirée brought together local chefs, restaurants, brewers, entertainers, and nonprofits in an effort to fight area hunger.

As Foodbank Executive Director Steve Beekman explained, the Soiree is one of the agency’s signature fundraisers. “All the money raised here goes back to helping with the services we provide to the community,” Beekman said.

Through programs addressing senior hunger, a mobile marketplace, child nutrition, and more than 100 partner agencies, Foodbank seeks to address food insecurity – the lack of regular, reliable access to needed nutrition.

Serving Lake and Porter counties, Foodbank wants to serve the more than 90,000 persons – one in six residents – who are food insecure, Beekman said.

Distributing food by pound, Beekman estimated than Foodbank provides 4.5 million meals annually. While some service rates are down, Beekman cautioned, “We’re still seeing a lot of people struggling to make ends meet,” including aging baby boomers.

With 12 restaurants, businesses, and others providing food and drink, the Soirée menu included assorted cheese boards, chicken and waffles, cupcakes, pork tacos, creamy risotto fritters, and Hawaiian lomi lomi salmon.

Among the local “bites” was St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Student Center in Valparaiso, whose Café Manna Thursday soup kitchen is a Foodbank partner agency. The St. Teresa group used Foodbank supplies, making chicken Sloppy Joes and bread pudding from raisin bread.

Liz Engel, a Café Manna volunteer, explained, “We get a lot of food from Foodbank and we have to do something with it. We try to get creative.”

The soup kitchen serves 300 persons each week. Anita Beaudoin, whose husband Jack is a regular cook at Café Manna, commented, “It’s nice to see all the people here. We’re all here for Foodbank.”

Chris Monroe, owner of Timbrook Kitchens in Munster, brought savory pies and cole slaw. “Foodbank does a lot of good and we want to participate with them,” Monroe said. “They’re good people and this is a great venue.”

Dining under the Aquatorium roof, participants were entertained by the Calumet Ridge Jazz Ensemble.

Ivy Tech Community College’s East Chicago campus filled a table with cheese and crackers. Beverly Seleb, an instructor, explained that the college plans to offer Foodbank clients culinary training.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Seleb said. “We’re giving back to the community, because Foodbank is giving back to us.”

Among the partner agencies at the Soirée was the food pantry from St. James the Less Catholic Church in Highland. Ed Rosinski, food pantry CEO, said his group serves 161 families each month.

“I couldn’t run my pantry without Foodbank,” said Rosinski, citing the fellowship among partner agencies. “There’s a lot of camaraderie here. We have a lot in common.”

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