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Ellettsville pantry short on food and space

Empty food boxes

Pantry 279 is facing difficulty with finding a new building to call home. (Devan Ridgway)

Cindy Chavez is a difficult person to keep up with. As the director of Pantry 279 in Ellettsville she wears many hats: custodian, fundraiser, grant writer. When she started the pantry about six years ago, it was serving 3,500 people a month. Now, that’s up to 8,000. 

Due to this rise in the past two years, she says the space at Trinity Lutheran Church isn’t cutting it anymore. 

“We really need things like walk-ins, walk-in refrigerators, walk-in freezers, so that way we don’t have to throw out vegetables and bread at the end of the night because it’s not going to make it to the next day,” Chavez said. “It’s going to mold or go bad.”

Last year, the pantry received a quarter-of-a-million-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The money is for not only getting more food and supplies, but also for finding a bigger space.

Chavez says getting the Community Development Block Grant to help pay for a new space was the easy part. It’s finding a location to move that’s proven-at least so far-to be impossible.

“But at the end of the day, the landlords have decided that they don’t want to go with us because of the amount of people we serve,” Chavez said. “They say we serve too many, our traffic is too high."

The pantry does have some storage inside and offsite, but Chavez says it’s like playing Tetris or Jenga. She wants a place where she can store everything in one area, and staff members won’t be tripping over each other. 

A bigger space also means the pantry would be able to take large donations. She says even just having land for a pole barn would be enough.

Last week the pantry experienced something all too common in the past few months.

“With our numbers high up, though, it's just, we couldn’t handle it anymore and we ran out of food,” Chavez said.

Fortunately, Chavez says the community, including Hoosier Hills Food Bank, rallied together to get supplies, and they were only closed for a day. But this is the reality in a world riddled with supply chain issues.

“People seem to be willing to donate money and say here’s $500 here, here’s a food drive,” Chavez said. “But when it comes to actually having it in your backyard, they don’t want it.”

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