Michelle Gambrel and her team of about 70 Hope Center volunteers regularly see firsthand the depth and breadth of hunger in Central Indiana.
“The David Nolen Pantry of Hope was created to give hope and to help hurting families with food scarcity,” Gambrel, culinary and food pantry director at Hope Center Indy, said. “We have several families who pick up food for others in their community. We have a few families who are living in their vehicles; we provide them with other items, not just food.”
According to Feeding America, one in eight people in Indiana, including about 240,000 children, lack access to affordable and nutritious food at some point in the year. The causes vary, but poverty and family crisis are often common drivers of hunger in both urban and rural settings.
In 2020, Gambrel joined the staff to lead a ministry that provides not only nutritious food to people in need but also compassion and encouragement.
“We impart hope and healing to every heart,” Gambrel said. “From the people receiving the food, to those handing out the food, to those who packed the food, to those who pick up the food and unload the food, to the ladies who live at the center and witness people helping people, because we truly care. It is truly amazing to see God bring total strangers together and they become a team of people helping people.”
As with every other aspect of the Hope Center, the food pantry thrives with the help of a long list of partners, including Midwest Food Bank, Gleaners, Second Helpings, Kroger, Moody's Butcher Shop, Hatch, Anthem, Caliber Collision, Walmart, Meijer, Dollar General, Starbucks, Big Lots, Party City, Sam's Club, the Indiana Diaper Bank, ITOWN Church,Community Action of Greater Indianapolis and Costco.
A strong team of volunteers also is foundational to the success of the food pantry and the culinary service, which provides meals for the center’s residents.
"Hunger is pervasive across all parts of our community,” one of the volunteers, Mark Kern, said “We serve clients from the areas proximate to the Hope Center, but our service area extends far beyond our immediate neighbors. We draw clients from 12 counties, including Shelby, Decatur, Henry and Rush counties. We see a wide variety of circumstances that lead to this state of hunger, and these seem to have an indiscriminate impact on families of diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. It is so exciting to be the hands and feet of Christ in helping address the concerns of hunger with so many of God's people."
Another volunteer, Diana Cowan, noted that people don’t have to live in Marion County to receive help nor they need to answer a lengthy list of questions to receive food.
“We pray and we talk and know a lot of our recipients by name,” Cowan said. “We want them to leave with hope, dignity and a trunk full of food, and the knowledge that God loves them.”
The pantry’s success is dependent not only on volunteers such as Cowan and Kern but also the generosity of donors who give to help neighbors in need. Another volunteer, Jackie Knudsen, said sharing information about the pantry at church, at work and with neighbors is another way to support the effort.
Money to help feed families in need can be donated by phone at 317-752-1500 or online at https://www.hopecenterindy.org/give Checks also can be mailed to the Hope Center, 11850 Brookville Road, Indianapolis, 46239 (designate that it is a donation for the food pantry).
Nonperishable food can be dropped off at the food bin in the Hope Center’s reception area.
And potential volunteers can sign up as individuals or as a group at https://www.hopecenterindy.org/getinvolved
Volunteer Andrea Mennel suggested that people take a tour of the Hope Center campus to learn more about the food pantry and other areas of the ministry.
“Come and meet the people who work tirelessly to provide for the women and the community,” she said. “Visit the pantry on a Thursday night and see what wonderful things happen here.”
Michelle Gambrel herself started as a volunteer at the Hope Center in 2017. She’s seen God do amazing work through the Hope Center’s ministry since then.
“I feel truly blessed to be in this season of life to be available to help so many people,” Gambrel said. “Friendships developing with volunteers and relationships being built with the community is truly a gift. I have seen first-hand God providing exactly what is needed and realize that God knows our needs before we know them. God hears us and loves us more than we can ever realize. I have learned that even if a day is difficult and I am tired and worn out, that as long as I show up and do what God has called me to do, he provides the energy and knowledge needed each day. It is on the days that I feel exhausted that God brings exactly the right people at the right time to encourage each other or have experiences to learn from. I have learned to rest in God's provisions and trust him.”