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Aunt Helen and Community Connections

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(Mostly) About Food…

By Diane Pohl Minott

Aunt Helen and Community Connections   

Aunt Helen came to visit one night when my sibs and I were in grade school. She said that she had been called into the IRS for an audit because the agent, a nice young man, explained: “No one could possibly give away that much money, Mrs. Talbot.” “Well…,” she said as laughter erupted. We knew the rest of the story. In fact, she had given away that much—and more. The agent found an error when adding up her receipts, and she got a refund.

Helen lived her life in the Joliet area, and she kept in touch with just about everybody who crossed her path more than once. She was still meeting her high school classmates for a monthly lunch well into her 90s. She had a full-time job as a payroll clerk but somehow managed to help everyone who needed it in her vast circle of friends and acquaintances and their friends, families, and in-laws. There was no illness or bereavement that wasn’t mitigated by a coffee cake. For joyous occasions a beautifully decorated layer cake might appear.

She baked coffee cakes, and sometimes morning glory muffins, in quantity and froze them, ready to jump in the car after defrosting and deliver them with warm wishes. Hers was a life of love and connection. And connection, I now read, is important to a life lived well. The psychological benefits are obvious and important.

Since Helen was heating up the kitchen, the U.S. population has expanded by about 150 million, and people have become much more mobile. Community connections are more fragile. There are fewer Aunt Helens in the world and even if there were, her baked goods conveyed concern and connection, but they did not save a family from hunger. Currently, there are dire needs for food assistance in every community.

A few weeks ago, I visited the Northwest Indiana Food Bank in Gary. I sent them a donation at Christmas and was floored when I got an email back saying that every dollar I gave would provide three meals. What?! I had to learn more.

Founded in 1982, the Food Bank serves more than 145,000 households through their 111 partner agencies in Lake and Porter counties. One in six people in the communities served are food insecure, which means that they cannot count on healthy food for themselves or their families. In 2016, 4.2 million meals (one meal equals 1.2 pounds of food) were provided by the Food Bank, which sounds amazing until you read the next statistic, which is that 17 million more meals are needed each year.

The organization required to collect the food, store it, and distribute it is herculean, and the Bank relies on a dedicated staff and volunteers to make it happen. Through its donating partners, it also rescues thousands of pounds of food that would otherwise be trashed.

One thing that impressed me is that the goals of the Food Bank extend beyond providing sustenance. They would work themselves out of existence if they could by providing training for food self-sufficiency. There are plans to add programs to do just that.

Having only lived in the Valpo area for about six years, I know I will never have the roots that my parent’s generation had. I won’t be delivering baked goods, but participating in the nourishment of the community fulfills a desperate need. With each box of canned goods and fresh produce delivered by the Food Bank and its partner agencies, the care and concern of neighbors is delivered as well.

Helen lived a long life. She survived three bouts of cancer and was active almost until she died at the age of 95, looking 20 years younger. And that nice young man from the IRS? I would bet that the next time his mother was in the hospital or his wife had a baby, one of Helen’s famous coffee cakes found its way to his door.

For more information on the Northwest Indiana Food Bank and a link to Feeding America, which is working to eliminate hunger throughout the U.S., check out this website: www.foodbanknwi.org/. And do consider attending the Food Bank’s fundraising event, The Soirée, on Sunday, June 10, which promises “the best tastes, sights, and sounds from around the Region.”



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