On a rainy November afternoon, around 25 individuals amble into Geno's Cafeteria, a local soup kitchen from Backstreet Missions that serves free meals five days a week. Bundled up to fight the howling wind and sideways rain people of all ages enter. The only age group absent is children, but perhaps the bad weather is keeping them at home.
Today's menu includes beef and noodles, chicken and rice, asparagus, a pastry assortment with cookies, donuts and muffins, and a salad bar. Three servers stand on the food side, helping those in need receive a well-balanced and comforting meal on this cold day.
The atmosphere is friendly. Almost nobody is sitting at a table alone. They either came to eat in pairs or groups, or came to meet up with the usual crowd.
Mother Hubbard's Cupboard, Stepping Stones, Shalom Community Center and Martha's House will ask Bloomington to participate in National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week Nov. 16-22 to bring awareness to poverty in the community.
It is a collaborative effort between the four non-profit organizations to teach community members about poverty and empower them to take action against poverty in Bloomington. The week's events include Food for Thought, Bloomington, Stand Up! and the Bloomington Food Stamp Challenge.
Food for Thought is a returning program under which several local restaurants donate a portion of proceeds to the participating non-profit organizations.
"Stepping Stones partnered with Martha's House last year to create what was called the Food for Thought fundraiser," Stepping Stones Assistant Director Warren Wade said in an e-mail. "We collaborated and recruited a handful of restaurants to donate a portion of their proceeds to our two agencies."
If America’s economic decline continues, local nonprofits that serve those in poverty anticipate larger demands for their services.
Organizations such as Backstreet Missions, Shalom Community Center, Stepping Stones and Community Kitchen expect more people will seek their help in the months ahead.
Community Kitchen is devoted to eliminating hunger in Monroe County by providing meals to the hungry. The agency saw a slight increase in October and expects the numbers to continue to rise.
“It wouldn’t surprise me to see a 10 percent rise in numbers over the next six months,” said Vicki Pierce, Community Kitchen’s executive director.
It is move-out time. Pictures are taken off the walls, the carpet is vacuumed one last time, and all the counters are wiped clean. The landlord arrives for the move-out inspection. Move-in damages are compared to the state of the property now.
What appears to be the normal tear and wear of renting for a year can turn into deductions from a security deposit. And Jim McGillivray, IU Student Legal Services (SLS) staff attorney, says the definition of the normal wear and tear is broad.
"What we try to argue in court is that ordinary wear and tear is the sort of depreciation you would expect from that (type) of tenant and the number of tenants living in the premise for a year," he explains. "But what could look like normal wear and tear to one landlord can look like damages to another."
With food and gas prices rising in a slowing economy, it seems there is no escape for low-income families in Bloomington. As they try to survive paycheck to paycheck, choices must be made. Is there enough money to pay the electric bill? Is there enough put aside for an emergency? Is there enough for groceries and the bills?
While many face these types of questions with uncertainty, there are small solutions that can help save money and lead to another positive outcome -- better nutrition.
Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard’s (MHC) Community Gardens Program teaches patrons and Bloomington residents an economical way to grow food in their own backyards. By combining nutritional and gardening education, participants learn a basic life skill that people of all ages are lacking in modern times.
“I strongly feel that having more community food security and having more home gardens is one of the keys of cutting down on the amount of poverty in a community and to just creating a beautiful and sustainable community,” says Stephanie Solomon, MHC’s assistant director.
When the friend John Collins was staying with told him he was moving across the country, Collins was forced to find a new place to live. His answer came from one of many faith-based organizations in town that serve the impoverished, Backstreet Missions.
"My brother stayed here once and told me a little about it," Collins explained. "I went to the Shalom Center, and they mentioned something about it too, so I came out here, and they took me in."
Backstreet Missions is a Christian-based organization dedicated to helping those in need. With a variety of programs and services, the mission has served Bloomington for 13 years.
The classrooms of Bloomington elementary schools are empty. It is summer -- no more cafeteria food, no more desks and an unlimited recess every day. At least this is how most school-aged kids view summer.
But according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2006 17.5 percent of children aged 18 and under in Bloomington lived in poverty. School is a safe haven for their families, a place where their children receive food and a comfortable, supervised setting during the day.
"I don't know if there's a lot of affordable summer options out there," said Rebecca Linehan, unit director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Bloomington. "There are at least scholarship options in each summer program I'm aware of."
The Boys and Girls Club and Monroe County United Ministries (MCUM) are two community nonprofits that have affordable summer program options. But space is limited. MCUM, for example, has 50 kids on a waitlist this summer.
Situated at 917 S. Rogers St. in the midst of a residential area is a small building that has a major impact on the community.
Past a set of tiny offices a few steps inside the entrance, the hallway opens into a dining area. Every day, around dinner time, this room fills with regulars and newcomers, all looking for one thing -- a nutritious meal.
Community Kitchen of Monroe County is one of the places in Bloomington that provides citizens in need with free, hot meals. Others include Shalom Community Center, churches and other poverty-fighting organizations.
"We don't hear about people starving to death in our community," Community Kitchen Executive Director Vicki Pierce said. "There's no need for anyone to starve to death here."
Jordan Bleckner leans back in his office chair and looks over paperwork at his desk. The phone rings, and he swivels in his chair to pick it up. The 21-year-old IU junior from Woodcliff Lake, N.J., is the 2008 Union Board Live From Bloomington (LFB) director.
Bleckner's job this day in April was to ensure everything was ready for this year's LFB Club Night, an annual fundraiser for the Hoosier Hills Food Bank (HHFB).
Club Night is one of many charity events for local organizations that add a touch of creativity. These types of fundraising events have been around for decades, like LFB's 22-year run, offering residents chances to help out in ways other than the typical walk-a-thons and marathons.
"I just wanted to be in charge of doing something good for Bloomington because I just love this town so much," Bleckner said. "Whether it be big programs or little ones, they're still great for students and the community."
Collaboration between organizations, such as LFB's with Hoosier Hills, has allowed these out-of-the-ordinary events to grow in number and variety.
A campaign launched by the Hoosier Hills Food Bank (HHFB) last November to find larger warehouse space has reached a landmark phase -- the acceptance of a purchase offer for a new warehouse.
HHFB Executive Director Julio Alonso said the nonprofit agency will purchase a 15,523-square-foot warehouse and 1.67 acres of land on West Industrial Park Drive for its operations, which are now located on Fairview just south of West 11th Street.
"We need this space to continue letting us do what we're doing, let alone try to do anything more," Alonso said. "Space is the primary need. We've got about 6,000 square feet here, and we've been borrowing about 10,000 square feet of space to operate."
Hoosier Hills collects food from restaurants, groceries, food distributors and other sources and distributes it to more than 80 agencies that serve the hungry in Monroe and five other South-Central Indiana counties.