Rows of seats in a Muncie Community Schools bus are filled with non-perishable food items.
One seat is exclusive for Ramen noodles. Another has stacks of canned foods, like soup, pasta and vegetables.
This is what members of the Soup Kitchen of Muncie, Cardinal Kitchen and Muncie Southside’s Panther Pantry envisioned for their “Stuff-A-Bus Food Drive” Sept. 17. It’s what they received too.
“Muncie is a giving town,” Loretta Parsons, the executive director of the Soup Kitchen, said.
Will Strobel, fourth-year student at Ball State University majoring in political science with a focus in international studies, has been with Cardinal Kitchen for three years and a month and is now the executive director of the organization. He said some people came to the event and dropped things off, presumably having known about the event beforehand, while some would see the event, go inside the store for their normal grocery shopping and come back out to donate items.
Deb Huston, Panther Pantry coordinator, said every donation counts.
“Today there might have been somebody who donated a can of soup, and that's wonderful,” Huston said. “Somebody else might have done a little bit more, that's wonderful. Everything helps.”
September is Hunger Awareness Month across the United States, which prompted the event. However, all involved said hunger and food insecurity aren’t just issues for one month, they’re everpresent.
Christiana Mann is the Ball State assistant director of Hospitality, Innovation and Leadership. She is on the Soup Kitchen’s board, as the chair of the fundraising subcommittee.
Heavily involved with food services at Ball State and in Muncie as a whole, Mann said hunger is a physical need, while food insecurity is a lack of consistent nutritious food. She said the work these three organizations, along with others, do to address hunger in the community is essential.
“It's very heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time,” Mann said. “There is no reason for anybody to be hungry in the world, especially in the United States. I mean, there is enough, we just need to look at distribution, [the] supply chain and getting the food to the people that need it.”
Mann said she has many students she works with that struggle with hunger and food insecurity.
“Many think, ‘Oh you’re at the university [Ball State] you must be good, you've got enough,’ and that is simply not the case,” Mann said. “Every semester I see students who are food insecure … they're houseless, they may not be homeless, but they're houseless, and they struggle. They rely on coming to the food labs because that's their major, and they know they're going to eat that day, or maybe they can save on a meal swipe to carry over for another time.”
Mann said she believes bringing multiple organizations together for events, such as “Stuff-A-Bus,” fosters an awareness of social injustice, such as the issue of hunger and food insecurity.
Parsons said she felt the Soup Kitchen was the “best kept secret” in the city for a while because it was hard to get the word out to the public. Now, she said she feels the organization has done a better job of doing so through social media and their website.
What do these organizations do when they aren’t “stuffing a bus?”
The Soup Kitchen, going into its 30th year in 2023, provides hot meals and sack lunches to the community every Monday-Friday. Mann said they reportedly serve 170 of each every day.
“People who have to look for something to eat every day, they can’t do anything else,” Parsons said. “They aren't gonna be able to pull themselves out of the situation … if that is the goal, then that's all they're gonna get done. If they can count on a place to get a hot meal and a sack lunch, then they know, ‘Maybe I can make that doctor's appointment I need to go to or go do something else.’”
Before COVID-19, the Soup Kitchen didn’t just serve food— they also provided a resource center and shelter. While they don’t offer this now, Mann said she is aiming to be able to make it available again as soon as possible.
Panther Pantry provides students at Muncie Southside Middle School with backpacks of food each weekend, and Huston said she makes sure they also provide for emergencies. Panther Pantry additionally holds a “Family Food Giveaway” the third Thursday of every month from 5-6 p.m. at Southside.
“It's letting the kids be a kid and not have to worry about the food,” Huston said. “Now it's changed because they're feeding their families; the kids are taking their backpacks home, and they're feeding their families with the backpacks.”
As for Cardinal Kitchen, they are mostly focused on meeting the needs of Ball State students, but Strobel said events such as “Stuff-A-Bus” help the organization see the perspectives of organizations that help the Muncie community as a whole.
Mann said COVID-19 put the Soup Kitchen in “a tough spot” as far as their ability to provide, but she said it also brought forth an increased number of volunteers. Both Huston and Parsons emphasized the importance of volunteers.
“If we didn’t have volunteers, we would not exist,” Huston said.
Along with the pandemic, inflation has also posed a threat to these nonprofit organizations. Huston said Panther Pantry had to raise the cost of their weekend backpacks from five dollars to six.
Parsons said the grocery budget for the Soup Kitchen, along with the average citizen of Muncie, is “shot.” With that in mind, she said she was thankful for fundraisers the Soup Kitchen has been able to host and is thankful for the donations made at “Stuff-A-Bus.”
“Think about all these people that are coming to the grocery store, and they're facing the same thing we're facing, but they're thinking about other problems and reach into their pocketbook and give us a $20 bill or they get the list and go in and shop,” Parsons said. “It is encouraging. People, even though they’re hurting, they want to help others as well, and I think that's just part of what we do as a community and society.”
Whether it’s raising awareness, donating money or providing food to those in need, representatives from all three organizations said events such as “Stuff-A-Bus” are held for one cause: stopping hunger.
“Food is needed for all walks of life,” Huston said. “Even the richest person in Muncie may have a bad [situation], and they need it. You don't know, and that's what's so great about these groups is we don't discriminate, it’s open to everybody.”