Saint Therese Food Pantry shares more than food

It’s the time of year when many people gather with family and eat all kinds of delicious foods. But perhaps this year more than ever, due to record-high inflation levels, putting that food on the table is incredibly hard for some local families.

Community Harvest Food Bank’s Helping Hands Saturday food distribution has increased dramatically over the last several months, serving approximately 1,100 families each week – some of whom arrive by 4 a.m. just to get one of the first spots in line.

There’s also more demand at the smaller food pantries. For example, at Saint Therese Catholic Church, the food pantry volunteers are seeing an increase of about 30% (from 60 to 80 people per month).

Longtime Saint Therese pantry volunteer Sue Rockstroh tells the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation they are seeing more seniors, veterans, people who are under-employed, and people trying to make ends meet on social security or disability benefits. The pantry works to purchase food at deeply discounted prices from Community Harvest Food Bank and uses part of a grant from the St. Joe Foundation to the Saint Vincent de Paul Society of Fort Wayne.

“I just want to treat people the way I’d want to be treated,” says Rockstroh. “If I was one of these people where everywhere they go, they are treated like a number, I wouldn’t like that. Anyone that comes here doesn’t get a number, they get to be people. We hear about their families, new babies and that’s as much a part of what we do here as the food. We let people know we care.”

When Rockstroh is asked how people can help support the pantry, she immediately answers that cash donations are most appreciated so that pantry volunteers can purchase some of the most-needed items, like vegetables, fruits, bread and proteins like chicken. If people prefer to donate items, she notes that hygiene items and supplies like laundry detergent are always in high demand.

Tony Rahrig, who volunteers alongside Rockstroh, notes that prayers are always welcomed as well.

“Our faith is why we’re here,” says Rahrig. “We start the morning with a prayer and then get to work. We have some people who are hesitant and say they don’t want a handout, so we try to be encouraging and let them know that everyone goes through rough times. I enjoy everyone who comes in. We have an older gentleman who comes with a friend, and they are always so fun to talk with. It just makes your heart feel good. It very much is a two-way street.”