Sojourner Truth House gives hope to the less fortunate
Grace Opinker | The Times of Northwest Indiana
Last November, a young man wearing a sweatshirt and sandals walked up to the clothing bins outside the Sojourner Truth House in Gary.
The man grabbed a coat that came halfway up his arms. Although he was very grateful to have the ill-fitting coat, volunteer Dennis Kenning knew they could find him something better in the pile of donated winter jackets.
Dennis and his wife, Sharon Kenning, asked what else they could help with. The man, who wore a size 13, needed an appropriate pair of shoes for the freezing temperatures. By coincidence, Dennis looked down and noticed a gently used pair of Nikes in a size 13, something STH rarely receives.
“It gave us chills,” Sharon said. “It got down to 19 degrees that night. If this young man was sleeping on the streets that winter coat and those shoes could have made a huge difference for him.”
STH, a nonprofit organization, primarily serves as a food pantry to Gary residents. It also provides women and children living in local shelters with a day center program to attend throughout the week.
STH opened its doors in 1997 at 410 W. 13th Ave., after Sister Joan Fisher saw a need for an organization like this in Gary.
At the food pantry, clients are eligible to receive a food basket containing grains, protein, dairy, and fruits or vegetables once every 30 days. Food baskets are designed to last clients for a few days. They are also eligible to receive personal hygiene items once every 90 days.
The food pantry is open Tuesday through Thursday from 9-11 a.m. and 1-2 p.m. STH receives food from the government, the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana and donations.
“We recognize the strong need for help here in Gary. We see the disparity,” said Sharon, a Valparaiso resident. “We’ve had people turn down milk because they don’t have a refrigerator to put it in.”
STH’s food pantry can serve 270 clients per week, though nutritious foods aren’t always available. Recently, STH started the “Five loaves and two fish initiative,” which asks for churches, organizations or businesses to commit to participate in one food drive a year to help support the food pantry.
STH is also looking for volunteers to assist with its garden, the food pantry, and clothing closest that’s available to women and children.
“As the need in the community grows, we need more assistance to make it easier,” Volunteer Coordinator Airiel Crenshaw said. “The more the merrier.”
Women who attend the day center program have the opportunity to attend classes designed to identify the root causes of financial and emotional instability, and how to overcome those barriers. On-site case management services assist women with finding employment and housing, Executive Director Angela Paul said.
The center serves nearly 20 women and their children each day. Women who’ve walked through STH’s doors have lived in hotels, on the streets and inside rented storage units, said Pam Key, director of client services.
“We’re desperately in need of affordable housing in Gary,” she said. “Some of the reasons women are becoming homeless is because they can’t afford the housing. There’s a need for awareness to our problem of homelessness in Lake County and the state.”
The day center is available to residents across Northwest Indiana and beyond. Women who attend the program receive breakfast and lunch, and have the option to pick out gently used or new clothes from the clothing closet if necessary.
STH accepts donations of gently used clothing items, accessories and small appliances. Crenshaw said STH also tries to provide women with a variety of home furnishings and cleaning supplies once they move out on their own.
“It’s a very worthwhile mission to help these women get back their independence, and back on their feet,” Sharon said. “We have a passion for it because we see the need.”