Strack and Van Til shoppers can enjoy wall-to-wall cuisine, from prepared delicacies at the deli to a rainbow of produce stretching across the shelves. However, many Northwest Indiana families have empty fridges and barren cupboards. In fact, 100,000 individuals in The Region identify as food insecure, meaning they don’t have access to nutritious food.
That’s why the Checkout Challenge, a partnership of Strack and Van Til and The Food Bank of Northwest Indiana, is kicking off full force this month to encourage customers to round up their purchase to the next dollar to benefit thousands of families in Lake and Porter counties.
“When you round up a few pennies, it doesn’t seem like a lot, but one dollar can provide three meals to someone in need,” Emily Cutka, Communications and Special Events Manager for the food bank, said. “Every little bit counts, and helps us do so much more.”
"We often overlook that hunger touches our communities in Lake and Porter counties," Ashleigh Marlow, Strack and Van Til public relations coordinator, said. "Most of us consistently have access to a sufficient supply of nutritious food, but we recognize that's not the case for everybody. Our goal at Strack & Van Til and Town & Country is to help build brighter futures. An easy way to contribute this holiday season is by rounding-up your order at any of our Store locations. All proceeds will benefit the cause of the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana."
In Lake County, that number is 80,000, and in Porter County 20,000 people are without a reliable food source. Cutka said it may be surprising to see those numbers, however hunger exists in everyone’s neighborhood, workplace or classroom.
“Hunger is very personal and private,” she said. “You can’t really see it on the outside, it happens in kitchens and cupboards.”
The Food Bank of Northwest Indiana and Strack and Van Til have been partnering for the Checkout Challenge for more than five years, raising $90,000 to fight hunger in Northwest Indiana last year alone.
“It’s all about the community for us,” said Kevin Grace, Store Director of Strack and Van Til in Valparaiso. “It’s all about making it a better place for those who shop here.”
Another way to give is through B.A.M., standing for Bag a Meal, where pre-filled grocery bags can be donated to the food bank. Overall, Grace said their shoppers are always generous to lend a hand.
“The response has been fantastic,” Grace said. “We’ve been doing the round-up for hunger, too. The Valparaiso community is very aware of the need and very supportive in giving back.”
Cutka set up a booth of educational materials from the organization at the front of the store, talking to passersby about the importance of her cause. She pointed out that Northwest Indiana has 50,000 students who rely on free and reduced lunch, however, that doesn’t help when they come home after school or for the weekend.
“One in five kids in the community go hungry, and we’re not okay with that,” Cutka said. “About 40 percent of usable food is thrown in the trash because it’s bruised or misshapen produce that stores don’t want to sell, but it’s still nutritious. Yet, one in five kids don’t have dinner when they come home. It just doesn’t make sense. When I tell people that, it makes them really understand; they get on board with what we’re doing.”
Some residents are stuck in a “food desert,” where grocery stores are far from the neighborhood, with exception of possibly a gas station or small convenience store. For Valparaiso resident Lisa Hernandez, a shopper who gladly donated to the cause, the concept is all too familiar. Hernandez runs a food pantry in her hometown in the Brunswick community of Gary.
“My neighborhood doesn’t have grocery stores,” Hernandez said. “Some people don’t have cars, and there’s a lot of senior citizens that live there. So they have to rely on over-priced gas stations or they have to take two buses to get to the nearest country market.”
The Checkout Challenge will stretch from November 4th to the last day of December at the Valparaiso location on Calumet Avenue and the Schererville location on Indianapolis Boulevard. Be sure to stop in and round up to feed neighbors in need, or buy a bag of goods to donate. You can also visit foodbanknwi.org to donate directly to the organization and learn about volunteer opportunities.
“Strack and Van Til has been a very important part of our food bank since we opened in 1982,” Cutka said. “Back in the ‘80s when we ran into financial struggle, Strack’s stepped up to keep our doors open. For the past 30 years they’ve been a great partner in serving the community. They are in the business of providing fresh, nutritious food to the community, and we are doing the same, so it just makes sense.”