After volunteers at Kendallville's Common Grace Ministries noticed they were serving multiple generations of the same families at the Friendship Food Pantry, they knew something had to change.
The way the ministry serves low-income clients began to change in 2013.
“In that process, we discovered that we have fourth-generation people coming through our food center and the Hope Chest furniture bank,” Executive Director Angie Kidd said. “It was a hard and bitter pill to realize that we had potentially, inadvertently become part of the problem instead of the solution.
In December 2016, the organization hosted the New Way Workshop with church ministries from several other cities in Indiana and Illinois to share best practices and find innovative ways to help people achieve long-term success. Two books that aided the transition, Kidd said, were “Toxic Charity” by Robert Lupton and “When Helping Hurts” by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett.
The result was the Noble New Way Movement, a collection of agencies including the Noble County Economic Development Corp, United Way of Noble County, Drug Free Noble County, Noble House Ministries, the Community Foundation of Noble County and the Olive B. Cole Foundation.
“The best way that I can describe how this ministry is going is that we know that relationships are the key,” Kidd said.
Much of those relationships are geared toward helping build up people who see themselves as broken and forgotten by God and the community. It's a much harder form of outreach than simply operating a food bank or thrift store, Kidd said.
“It's much easier to just pay a bill and send them on their way, give them food and send them on their way, give them furniture and send them on their way,” Kidd said. “It's much harder to build that relationship.”
The shift involved renaming the food bank to the Friendship Connection, Kidd said, because the facility is now much more than a food pantry, with a more sophisticated system. Starting early next year, Kidd said residents who come to the Friendship Connection will need two “Connect Coupons” to shop. Residents can earn those vouchers by volunteering for an hour or attending a class.
“We want to teach the children coming up that there is a better way, that nothing is free. It always costs somebody something,” Kidd said. “For example, it costs a lot of money to run the food center every month; $3,000 a month is pretty typical.”
Common Grace Ministries also plans to open a community garden to serve its food-related efforts, Kidd said. That effort will include the East Noble Montessori School. Students from that school have been coming on site for three years, but this year's focus will be on the garden, Kidd said.
“The students are going to teach us how to compost,” Kidd said. “They're going to be helping us and working alongside their neighbors in those gardens. They're going to be learning a different way of helping people who live in poverty.”
To foster that philosophical change, Kidd said Common Grace Ministries in 2016 decided to get rid of all government funding, including for commodities at the food center. That decision, Kidd said, allows the ministry more flexibility in how it allocates its resources. It also allows the organization to focus more exclusively on residents in Noble County, particularly those who live in the 46755 ZIP code.
Shifting toward a relationship-based collaborative effort has some challenges. Other cities doing similar work exist in urban communities such as Champaign and Bloomington, Illinois, and Kokomo, Kidd said.
But the fact that Kendallville is a rural area makes Common Grace Ministries' approach so attractive, Kidd said, stressing that Noble County residents are “not big on wringing our hands over problems.”
“We are problem solvers. There are a lot of farming communities here,” Kidd said. “We knew what the issues are, but now it's a matter of what are we going to do about it.”
As was the case in Kendallville, organizers at Kokomo Urban Outreach were noticing the same families coming to the food pantry, said Deanna Ancil, associate executive director.
“We were seeing a lot of the same folks over and over again, but not really seeing them advance at all,” Ancil said. “We were making them more dependent on us.”
Ancil said the organization decided to rethink how it provided services through its food pantry. Kokomo Urban Outreach expanded that facility into the food and service center, with a new focus on learned skills.
That shift began in early 2016, Ancil said.
“We stopped doing a lot of one-way giving. When we first opened, we started out listening to our neighbors. If they wanted food, we gave them food, if they needed clothes we gave them clothes,” Ancil said. “We found that 10 years later, the same families were getting the same things and the situation really was not changing.”
Now, when people stop by the food and service center, Ancil said they're asked to fill out a form containing three questions:
1) Why do you need food today?
2) What is something you're good at or like to do that you can share with somebody else?
3) What are one or two things you have always wanted to learn?
The answers clients provide the outreach center help connect them to appropriate community resources, Ancil said. The facility still provides food for those who need it, she added, while also helping to foster a sense of community among people in similar situations.
“We have a crochet club that meets every Tuesday evening of folks that can teach it, or like to do it and folks that have said they'd like to try it,” Ancil said. “It's helped raise self-confidence, self-esteem, something they've shared with other folks who now have a skill or talent that they never had before.”
According to Kokomo Urban Outreach's website, in addition to connecting clients to one another, the center uses volunteers as part of its UP2US volunteer initiative. Volunteers are asked to pray about where they want to help, read “Toxic Charity” and attend a 45-minute poverty training class. There are volunteer opportunities in administration and development, as well as through programs including the food center, kitchen co-op, job club, baby university, and more.
Word of Kokomo Urban Outreach's approach reached members of the Noble New Way Movement, who visited the facility for a tour. Kidd noticed how personal the services at the facility were, especially from Jim Newton, executive director of Kokomo Urban Outreach. While helping Newton after a tornado hit Kokomo in 2016, Kidd said he asked her to find a man who hadn't yet been seen.
“There were 600 people and in all of the chaos, he knew one person he had not seen. He's built relationships so strong that when one person was not there, he knew it,” Kidd said. “That's the kind of relationship building we want to do here. It changes the game.”
At a glance
Common Grace Ministries
2004 Dowling St., Kendallville 46755
Hours of Operation:
Monday: 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Tuesday: 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
Thursday: 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Friday: 8:30 a.m.-noon