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By Tom Spalding, Communications Volunteer

In trying to put some context behind the Boulevard Place Food Pantry’s latest service milestone, it’s worthwhile to go back in time. In 2018, BPFP ranked as the 15th busiest food bank in Central Indiana, supporting an average of 812 client households with shoppers seeking respite inside our cramped, crowded but compassionate grocery; we knew there was an appetite for growth.

Five years later (and following a significant makeover of the operations that doubled our building size to 3,000 square feet) the latest numbers are in. As of the recently concluded fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2023, our Pantry served an average of 1,348 households each month.

The total number of clients served surpassed 16,000 for the first time. Both are records.

According to data supplied by Gleaners, Boulevard Place is now the 9th-busiest food bank central Indiana, and No. 5 just counting Indianapolis-Marion County.

Boulevard Place is a special work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Indianapolis chapter. Not counting Gleaners’ onsite pantry, the St. Vincent de Paul’s Pratt-Quigley 30th Street Pantry is the largest in Marion County – 12,718 households served monthly, according to Margo Takehara, director of Marion County Network, Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana.

BPFP’s 1,300+ clients served numbers was a 6% increase from 2022.

“We’ve surpassed a humbling milestone and we can tell from the steady stream of needy people that this won’t be the last record that we set,” said Matt Hayes, director of Boulevard Place Food Pantry. “We’re blessed to be in the position where we have the capacity to handle more individuals and families fighting food insecurity, the space to handle more donations of all kinds and the unwavering backing of so many, including the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and our five supporting parishes who give their time, talent and treasure.”

Hayes thanked his predecessors — Mark Varnau (director from 1989-2016) and Cindy Brown (director from 2016 to 2022 and co-director to 2023) for the “vision to build for this moment.”

As Brown recalls, it was in 2018 where it was clear that our supporters were willing to expand our service to more needy people — but our space inside a retrofitted, remodeled late 1940s era filling station wouldn’t allow it.

All signs were favoring expansion, which took place  from 2019-21, built on the concept of serving more people with no number in mind – just to feed anyone who walked in the doors. “We didn’t have a ceiling,” Brown said. “There was no magic number.”

BPFP serves clients exclusively from specific zip codes (46205, 46208, 46220, 46240, and 46220) with proof of residency required. We also will allow someone not in the area to shop once and we’ll let them know where they can go to eat.

What caused the steady climb in demand from 800 a month to 1,300? The pandemic-driven economic hardship, inflation, and cuts in government assistance programs, primarily. Our frontline experts think the pantry’s referrals (based on reputation) helped. They also are seeing people who are visiting a food pantry for the very first time as they have trouble making ends meet.

“It’s important to recognize that food insecurity is a complex issue with many contributing factors – from the ‘working hungry’ to seniors on fixed incomes whose already frugal lifestyle hasn’t kept pace with inflation,” said Phyllis McNamara, longtime Pantry chairwoman who is in charge of client check-in on Thursdays. “Our job isn’t to solve the causes of need but fill the gap in the most dignified, nonjudgmental way we can.”

In the state of Indiana, roughly 1 in 7 households face difficulties providing enough nutritious food for their families during the year, highlighting the critical role organizations like ours play in the community.

We know from feedback that we are a destination because of our commitment to fresh and nutritious items, an expectation that operations manager TJ Ranft, a former caterer and food industry veteran, takes to heart as he seeks to source high-quality proteins and all types of variety our shoppers expect.

“You can drive through or walk out with lots of value and able to get by that weekly – it’s one less expense you have to worry about, so you can focus on utility bills or other payments that stress your household budget,” he said.

Our mission at the Boulevard Place Food Pantry goes beyond merely providing emergency food. We are committed to educating our clients about the best food choices for their specific needs and medical conditions but choose what they prefer. We aim to empower our shoppers with the knowledge to make informed dietary choices, but the mission remains to provide emergency food assistance to those in need. Our dependable force of volunteers make the  experience very special.

The Boulevard Place Food Pantry is primarily fueled by individual donations and financial contributions from various religious institutions and groups within our community.

We want to extend our sincere thanks to parishioners at Christ King, Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Luke, St. Joan of Arc, and St. Thomas Aquinas for their support, along with the contributions from other religious institutions and non-denominational groups like the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association, Starbucks and the Broad Ripple farmers market.

A few other examples of support from other religious institutions are those in the neighborhood:  Common Ground, Fairview Presbyterial and Meridian Street Methodist.

The Boulevard Place Food Pantry is now in its 41st year overall and 11th year at 4202 N. Boulevard Place.

More: What do shoppers think of Boulevard Place? Watch our video.