There is a gap, and it’s one that some people might not expect to find. But families around the area find themselves in this gap between losing a job or other event that puts them under stress and in need of assistance, and actually getting that assistance due to the timing of paperwork and other issues.
That gap is being filled in by Heartland Helping Hands, which started last month and is already growing, thanks in large part to Facebook. The group, started by Luke and Janice Hochstetler along with Karen Reid, began to help those in need over “the rough edges,” as Reid describes it. Already, they are assisting a family at least every other day, and the need is quickly growing.
The idea is to help out families with emergency food needs by collecting and distributing donated food. “We’ve been surprised at the amount of need,’ Luke said. So far, they have assisted families in LaGrange, Steuben, DeKalb, Elkhart, Noble and St. Joseph (Mich.) counties.
A family can contact them through Facebook or by calling (see the numbers at the end of this article). Then, through Facebook or other means, they work to get food donated and delivered. There are 135 people who have joined the group online already, and they hope to see that grow. A sister site has been set up for non-food items.
“Currently, this is funded out of our pockets,” Reid said. They don’t get reimbursed for their gas or time to pick up and distribute the food, but they have begun to approach churches for assistance, as well as fundraising opportunities.
Some of the families that have received this short-term assistance have also turned around to help others.
And it’s not just store bought food that the group is working with. “We have someone who donated tomatoes and another person who cans them,” Reid said. Others have donated potatoes. They are also interested in getting venison from hunters this season.
Heartland Helping Hands also has access to some land in the county that they would like to grow vegetables on that can be harvested and shared with those in need. However, they need a group or individuals who can take the time to help tend the vegetables and take care of the gardens.
Sometimes, the needs that are brought to them fall outside of what is considered the ordinary for food banks, such as someone who asked about getting a couple of chickens so the family could have eggs. In short order, they were able to get someone who had some chickens to donate.
They try to respond to a request within 24 hours, and usually only take around six hours before they can round up a few boxes of food that have enough in them for several full meals. “We try to give them things for a complete meal,” Reid said.
The group has established “stocking stations” around the area that help cut down on the driving needed to get the food out to those who need it. So far, they have stations in Howe, LaGrange, Shipshewana, Wolcottville, Orland and Fremont.
Along with the food, the families are given information on area food banks, area churches that provide assistance, temp agencies that are hiring, as well as contact information for the Department of Family and Children Services.
As they look ahead and realize that the need will only grow, they are asking for more people to get involved in a variety of ways. The most obvious is the need for donations, such as canned goods, cereal, peanut butter, boxed dinners and fruits and vegetables. Money donations can go to help purchase perishable items such as meat, milk and bread. They have freezer space available for donations of meat, as well.
They also are looking for jars to can vegetables in, along with people to help can.
They have recently been given a building in Burr Oak, Mich., that they need assistance in refurbishing so it can become a stocking and distribution location.
“A group can really do a lot more than each person buying and donating things alone,” Reid said.
Luke added that by combining efforts through the online community he created, they can achieve even more and help people close that gap quickly, when they need it most.