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By Tom Spalding, Boulevard Place Food Pantry Volunteer

Food drives have been a Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) staple for decades to benefit food pantries in Indianapolis, but we’re constantly impressed at the creativity of our students for a new twist on tradition when it comes to giving.

In late October, scores of middle schoolers at St. Thomas Aquinas (STA) in midtown Indianapolis participated in a friendly weeklong competition to collect food on behalf of the Boulevard Place Food Pantry.

STA students collected 577 pounds—we know, because as part of the drive, the students weighed the items on a commercial scale loaned to them by the Pantry and logged the totals in a book, just like volunteers do each day with donations. This was the first time the pantry had offsite weighing and logging. The students also grouped canned vegetables, snacks, drinks and so forth before transporting items to the pantry.

Kara Bungard, a STA middle-school teacher, led this food drive and instructed the students to think about what items they would want on their kitchen tables when collecting donations for strangers. Some of the kids even used their allowance to go shopping, using a list of desired items provided by Co-Director Cindy Brown. The students themselves were divided into three mixed-grade-level groups, or “houses,” and competed to see which could collectively bring in the most by total weight.

“It makes being charitable fun,” Bungard says. “Service to the community is one of the ideals at St. Thomas and our kids know that food-relief is more important than ever. They know that groceries are more expensive. This experience for the students was amazing—it made the act of generosity more tangible to them. And it’s going to inspire us at the school to expand.”

Church donations of food are vital, representing roughly 60% of intake versus the roughly 40% of food purchases the pantry makes on its own. By keeping close tabs on weight, the pantry can get a good idea of the annual cost-per-client and that helps with planning and budgeting.

Scored by total weight, in fiscal year 2022 and counting school and parish donations, Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) contributed 24,655 pounds of items (plus another 631 from its IHM gardens), St. Luke gave 15,630; Christ the King (CTK) gave 10,631 pounds; St. Thomas gave 3,943 pounds; and St. Joan of Arc gave 1,953. High schools like Cathedral (fall) and Brebeuf (spring) also do annual food drives and those are all welcomed.

Since 2021, IHM students have been regulars on Tuesday mornings, rotating in to help create to-go food kits for clients who drive-up shopping on Wednesdays.

Christ the King parish itself lists in its bulletin each week the “specialty items” for the food pantry each week. Each month it is something different—pasta and sauce, hot and cold breakfast cereals, diapers and wipes; the CTK students also donate all the home-grown vegetables from the St. Isadora garden throughout the spring and summer.

There is a high demand from the needy and the number of households served each month continues to set all-time records.

Although the pantry buys most of its food in bulk, individual donations like what the STA Tigers brought adds variety to the shelves, which our clients appreciate when they shop.

The pantry is open on Wednesdays (drive-through) and in-person shopping Thursdays and Saturdays. Anyone can drop off food; Tuesday mornings and Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 1 p.m. are preferred drop-off times.

From the Students

We asked students why they chose to participate in the food drive:

“We are very fortunate that we can go to the store and get food to eat, and it is important that other people get to do that.” Meredith

“Where I live there are a lot of hungry people and I wanted to help them.” AJ

“We’re really lucky to have food, and it is important for everyone to have food.” Grace

“I wanted to win.” Lidia