Helping Hands Food Pantry closes after 18 years of service

Mar. 7—ANDERSON — Inflation hits everyone, including food pantries. Increased costs forced Helping Hands Food Pantry to permanently close its doors Monday after 18 years of service.

"The last five pantries have cost about $4,000 a piece. I can't raise that. This one cost me $7,000. I was doing them for $1,200 before," said Phil Sveum, pantry manager for Helping Hands Food Pantry.

What started out as a reasonable $25,000 per year turned into about $80,000 per year for less variety than before. Each year, Helping Hands hosted about 23 distributions.

Sveum said the pantry was one of the largest in Madison County. According to data he provided, Helping Hands distributed about 6.8 million pounds of food, serving about 332,958 individuals in its 18 years.

Monday brought in about 314 families and distributed about 15,000 pounds of food.

Marieka Villalobos was one of those served. After COVID-related stipulations lifted, food stamps didn't stretch quite as far.

"This helps a lot."

Villalobos said she will miss the free food and the helpful volunteers.

Helping Hands not only serves households but other local food pantries.

Union Township Food Pantry in Chesterfield often received leftovers from distributions, according to Fayette Beauchamp, vice president of Union Township Food Pantry.

"That was a huge help. (Previously,) we got a lot of fresh vegetables from them."

The loss of Helping Hands would leave them without that assistance.

Both pantries receive food from Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana, which Sveum said is having trouble with supplies and costs.

In previous years, Second Harvest was able to get food from donors. Now, it's had to go the retail route, forcing it to charge pantries near-retail prices, he said.

Second Harvest serves about 23 pantries in Madison County alone, according to Sunni Matters, director of impact for Second Harvest.

Costs aside, Sveum said Helping Hands, like all good things, must come to an end some time.

Monday evening, after the distribution concluded, he and the many volunteers planned to gather together for some food of their own as they said goodbye.

Follow Caleb Amick on Twitter @AmickCaleb. Contact him at or 765-648-4254.