'The Other Bloomington'
From the street, Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard (MHC) is barely visible to the eye. The building in a strip mall on Bloomington’s south side is small and modest, but the significance of its services is not.
Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard is a local food pantry that focuses on nutrition, organic growing and educating its clients, according to Brooke Gentile, the MHC executive director.
“I was really excited to work at Mother Hubbard’s because we provide the healthiest food possible,” she said. “And also because we empower everyone involved.”
When officials at the Community Kitchen opened a satellite meal service on West 11th Street in 2001, they anticipated a decrease in the number of meals served out of their South Rogers Street kitchen, perhaps as much as 30 percent.
They had been providing free meals, no questions asked, to anyone who came in the door since Thanksgiving 1992. Logic and anecdotal evidence suggested that many of the hungry were finding their ways down to Rogers from “The Hill,” as the West 11th section of town is also known.
But Executive Director Vicki Pierce, who wasn’t there in 2001, said the conventional wisdom had to be re-evaluated after the Community Kitchen Express opened on The Hill.
“What happened is that our service numbers almost doubled in a period of a couple years,” she said.
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."
Anyone familiar with Bloomington knows that we operate on a different calendar here. In college communities like ours, summer arrives early, just about the time the redbuds bloom and tomato plants hit the soil in South-Central Indiana.
Consistent with that academic calendar, summer has arrived in Bloomington. And just a little more than a week into it, I can tell you that 2008 is going to be a good one.
For example, Alternative summer always means that a new group of aspiring young journalism students, eager to learn more about craft and community, join our cause. Already this year, three of my former students and I have begun reporting a project we're calling The Other Bloomington, which will be an in-depth, journalistic exploration of poverty in Bloomington.
We're launching the project in this issue with "Hunger spikes in Bloomington" by Jaclyn Baker and "Food bank reaches warehouse deals" by Audree Notoras, and we have a still-evolving, ambitious agenda of stories and angles to pursue over the summer.
Food prices rise. Gas prices grow to record highs almost daily. And Mother Hubbard's Cupboard's (MHC) client base is increasing with them.
"Peoples budgets are getting stretched farther," said MHC Executive Director Brooke Gentile. "The rising costs are making it harder on them."
MHC is a food pantry that provides for community members in need. It focuses on healthy and wholesome food to provide nutrition to its clients. In 2007, the pantry aided an average of 1,450 individuals per week and filled 75,017 grocery bags.
MHC served 161 new clients in March. In April that number more than doubled to 335. Gentile believes this growth is attributed to the rise of gas and food prices. She said these increases affect families that are living close to the poverty level.
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.