MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. – The public is invited to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Walker Street Park at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 17, when the Michigan City Parks & Recreation Department launches its Pantries in the Parks program.

The brainchild of Recreation Coordinator Kayla Sheblosky, Pantries in the Parks will provide nonperishable food and toiletries for those in need by allowing citizens to both take and donate items at self-serve stations that are set to be installed at Walker Street and Gardena parks.

“I’m a mom with young kids, so I’m in the moms groups on Facebook,” Sheblosky said. “Everyday, I see moms in Michigan City and La Porte post that they’re looking for food, toilet paper, baby wipes, formula. They aren’t asking for big-ticket items or money; they’re just attempting to fill their families’ basic needs. And I really wanted to help because, at the end of the day, we’re all just people doing our best.

“People feel shame over having to ask for help or going to a food pantry. Or they don’t have transportation to get there. So, having these boxes in our neighborhood parks makes it easy for them to walk by, grab what they need, and go home and feed their families.”

The Parks Board authorized Sheblosky to install and monitor a box pantry at each of the two parks on a trial basis. If the program proves successful, her hope is to install a pantry at every city park.

“I just want people to know that it’s OK to use these,” Sheblosky said. “If you need something, take it. If you have something you’re not using that someone else may need, leave it. It can be anything – canned vegetables, boxed pasta, toothbrushes, body wash, even formula samples you received in the mail. As long as it’s new and sealed in its original packaging, you can donate it.”

Although Pantries in the Parks is technically a city initiative, the cost of the project was absorbed entirely by sponsor contributions.

Weil-McLain, Burn ‘Em Brewing and the Michigan City Exchange Club pitched in to cover the cost of the materials to build the pantry boxes.

Nick Pollock of the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters donated his labor to assemble them.

Additionally, Burn ‘Em is hosting a food drive this weekend to help stock the pantries, offering those who donate a discount on beer through Sunday.

“We’re better as a community when we work together,” Sheblosky said. “Our sponsors covered the cost of all the supplies and even the food to get them started. We couldn’t have done this without their support.”
Mayor Angie Nelson Deuitch is supportive of the project, and hopes to see Pantries in the Parks expand to the city’s Westside neighborhood.

“Pantries in the Parks is an excellent idea,” she said. “We know that food insecurity is a challenge in La Porte County. These boxes are accessible and within walking distance for many of our community members who need them. They’re also convenient for people who want to donate because they’ll drive past on their way to the grocery store or drug store and can drop a few things while they’re out. It’s a win-win for the city.

“But we also ask that our residents and businesses continue to support the local organizations that have traditional food pantries when they host food drives. The goal is always to meet the needs of the people in our community.”