Last week, Indy Star reporter Maureen Gilmer wrote about the issue of hunger facing Hamilton County. In response, we wanted to highlight one of the partner agencies we work with in Hamilton County. We would encourage everyone to read the article, if you haven’t already. .
Hunger strikes in many places, sometimes in those most unexpected. In Indiana, one of the wealthiest counties has poverty and food insecurity issues that can be hidden because of the overall wealth. Hamilton County, the county directly northeast of Marion County and Indianapolis, has the second highest per capita income in the state but still suffers from poverty and food insecurity–about 14,000 people suffer from poverty in the county (SAVI), while almost 30,000 are identified as not having reliable access to food (IndyStar). One of its churches recognizes the issues of poverty and hunger and has taken it square on, all while retaining a community feeling.Noblesville First United Methodist Church began as a partner agency when the city identified a need and asked if the church would be willing to serve a weekly meal open to anyone in the community. From then, the partnership between Second Helpings and the church was born. Since 2009, Noblesville First has welcomed anyone from the community, including individuals and families from the subsidized apartment complex across the street from it. Completely volunteer-run, the weekly Thursday meal offers seniors a chance to get out of the house and socialize, while also removing the burden for one meal from families.
At the head of the program is Loi Mileham, a devoted volunteer who recognizes poverty in the community and seeks to make a difference by serving. Motivated by a heart focused on serving others and a family member that has trouble getting subsidized housing, Mileham and her fellow volunteers serve the meal with no strings attached.
“We offer a prayer at the beginning of the meal, but do not seek to evangelize to anyone,” Mileham said. “Anyone can attend this meal, not just churchgoers, but we do offer the opportunity to attend a service after the meal.”
Determined to serve the community, Noblesville First prints out leaflets and distributes them across the street to the apartment complex in order to offer the free meal to more people. “We usually have between 25-40 people, and many come for seconds and sometimes thirds!” Mileham believes that about 95% of the people who come for the meal are lower income and make less than $13,000 a year. “Most could probably provide a meal, but it may not be hot or it may not be of the best quality.” In addition to the main meal and bread provided by Second Helpings, Noblesville First provides vegetables and salads in order to complete the healthy, well-rounded meal.
In addition to the physical sustenance provided by the meal, individuals also feel a camaraderie and togetherness eating together. “We love to socialize here,” one couple said. “It’s a great community here. I enjoy coming here, and look forward to it every week,” an individual explained. “It helps get us out of the house and be around others.” Everyone agreed that the meals were good, including that week’s (sweet potato chili). The two favorites? Fried chicken and pork chops. If someone new attends, Mileham and the other volunteers talk to them about Second Helpings and its mission. Julie, one of the volunteers, noted that everyone goes home happy. “The individuals here make more of an impact on me than I them.”
Mileham and Noblesville First recognize the importance of Second Helpings and the meals it serves. “It’s a very important mission, and the church recognizes that. It’s a service to neighbors, a service to the community, and a service to God.” Mileham also recognizes Second Helpings importance in the community. “Not only do it serve hungry people, but it gleans food and also trains people for careers in the culinary industry. I’m very impressed.”
And the impact of Noblesville First’s community meal and its mission to serve others? “There’s a 3-4 year waiting list for subsidized housing here in Hamilton County. There’s an obvious need that isn’t being met. Poverty does play a role here,” Mileham stated.
In a county perceived as full of all wealthy, Noblesville First UMC seeks to illustrate the hidden poverty and change perceptions of it. By opening to serve the community, the church provides a crucial service by not only providing physical sustenance, but also sustenance for the soul and a sense that if the community sticks together and recognizes the problems it has, anything can be accomplished.
If you believe everyone deserves access to a healthy, nutritious meal, please consider supporting Second Helpings’ hunger relief efforts with a donation.