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By Tom Spalding, Pantry Communications Coordinator

From top to bottom (and in the office) you’ll be seeing changes at the Boulevard Place Food Pantry that leaders expect will be as good to the environment.

The most noticeable example is that we’ve gone solar. In February, crews installed 72 three-by-six-foot panels on various sections of the roof. The panels are designed to absorb sunlight and, in turn, generate electricity to an indoor utility box. When conditions are favorable, that electricity will power such things as our pantry’s lights, air conditioner and walk-in freezer/cooler, minimizing our carbon footprint. We estimate an annual savings of 91 percent.

“Once we pass inspection from AES, expected to occur any day now, when the sun is shining, the panels will power the pantry,” says Andy Pike, a Boulevard Place Food Pantry board member and our volunteer energy coordinator. “We’ll put those savings directly to use through the purchase of food, fulfilling our mission. It’s a 360-degree cycle, a blessing that makes all kinds of sense, reducing our impact on the environment while using the savings to provide food for the food insecure members of our community.”

Meanwhile, at ground level, with the goals of offsetting the impact of the large commercial building and providing up-to-date and sustainable environmental elements, volunteers from the Marion County Master Gardener Association and Indiana Native Plant Society will continue to modernize the landscaping on the perimeter of the property. In late spring and continuing into the summer and fall, invasive barberry shrubs that abut the sidewalk along Boulevard and 42nd Street will be replaced with a “demonstration” landscape of beneficial native shrubs and garden plants. This project is funded by grants from nature-related organizations.

The volunteers, who in 2021 donated and installed native plants and pollinator gardens on the west and north sides of the building, will also continue tending the vegetable trug (raised growing bed) and container vegetables and decorative annual plants on the south and east sides.

“The visibility of this new area to be worked on will give clients, neighbors and passersby an opportunity to learn new ideas and adapt the techniques at their own homes and gardens,” said Mary Durkin, a gold-level master gardener. “Our neighbors in Butler-Tarkington will always be welcome to stop, look, chat and even help.”

The new landscaping should meet the test of time—as will the solar. That’s important.

The property, a former filling station at 4202 N. Boulevard Place, has gone through two makeovers since it was acquired by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Boulevard Place Food Pantry in 2011, the last of which was a facility expansion to 3,000 square feet that was completed in September 2021. We fed over 11,380 households in the 2021 fiscal year, an all-time high, and the first four months of the 2022 fiscal year are as high or higher.

It’s clear there are no indications that poverty and food insecurity in our community (nor Marion County) will disappear. As there will be a continued need for the Boulevard Place Food Pantry, there will be a need for the pantry to use energy, with utility costs in general expected to rise without some way to mitigate the situation. Fortunate for Pantry board members, they were able to use funds from the pantry’s renovation and remodel budget to pay for the materials needed.

The lead-free solar panels are part of a broader goal to be more energy-efficient inside the pantry:

  • Windows are double layers of glass with argon gas in between
  • The overhead door is insulated
  • New freezer and cooler have several features that make them substantially more energy-efficient than their predecessors

Making food available to poor people is consistent with the mission of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, according to Pike. Quoting Pope Francis from his letter Laudato Si’: “Hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

Change in Administration

Residents are probably used to seeing Cindy Brown’s face as director. Don’t worry—that won’t change! For her sixth and final year, however, Brown will be joined by a co-director: Matt Hayes, a longtime Catholic educator and a Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association resident.

As of March 2, Hayes was starting to serve a three-year term as president, an unpaid position. After their first year together, Brown will transition to a new role overseeing the two part-time operations managers.

“Cindy Brown helped us evolve, and it’s a great time for our organization as we celebrate our 40th anniversary in 2022,” according to Phyllis McNamara, president of the Pantry board, which includes herself, treasurer, secretary and one person each from the five Catholic churches that provide the bulk of financial support to keep the pantry operating. “We take the responsibility seriously of being a cornerstone of emergency food relief in Marion County and in being a great neighbor while doing so.”

The change in leadership also had us thinking about our first leader. Bob Kennie was our founder, and we posted a tribute on our Facebook page to Bob in conjunction with Black History Month. Many thanks to one of his children, Rhonda (Kennie) Archey, and another former director, Mark Varnau, for their help putting the story together. You can read it here.

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