Lebanon-Based Company Helps Those in Need
In the 1980s, when members of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Lebanon started a phone service to assist Boone County residents in whatever way they could, most callers reported that they needed help just making ends meet. Food and clothing were the most requested items.
Today the nonprofit organization that grew from that phone service continues to provide food and clothing at no cost, as well as a variety of other basic needs.
That organization is the Caring Center.
“We’ve changed, but I think the heart of the organization always has been to meet people where they are, and not just say, ‘Well shame on us. Look at where we are,’” says Executive Director Theresa Hanners. “Instead we say, ‘Here we are. Where do you want to be?’”
Hanners has served as executive director for approximately 25 years, currently overseeing the organization with a board of directors. She’s been affiliated with the program since becoming a volunteer shortly after moving to Lebanon more than 30 years ago.
In the decades since Hanners got involved, the program has expanded to provide personal care items, furniture and other household materials, transitional housing, and a community garden. Trucks from the Caring Center pick up food from schools, restaurants and grocery stores through a food rescue program, and they collect furniture donations from individuals and businesses.
The Caring Center also presents food and budgeting classes, and hosts a cooking club. Its representatives conduct exercises in the community that educate groups about the challenges of living in poverty.
The center steers families toward choices that will aid their success – choices like selecting healthy foods at the pantry, even foods they haven’t tried in the past.
“Breaking the cycle of generational poverty – they’re doing it,” Hanners says of families who seek help from her organization. “One of the things we talk about in our ‘Getting Ahead in a Just-Getting-By World’ program is understanding the power in the choices we make every day.”
The center offers much of its assistance at its main location on Ransdell Court in Lebanon. The 5,500-square-foot facility houses a food pantry, furniture and household items.
A separate thrift shop called Classic Reruns, located on Indianapolis Avenue in Lebanon, offers discounted merchandise like clothing and furniture, with sales helping to support the Caring Center. The center’s transitional housing is on Main Street in Lebanon.
Normally around 25 volunteers assist at the Caring Center at any given time according to Hanners. However, the coronavirus pandemic had an effect on volunteer numbers, and a variety of other aspects of the center’s operations.
Precautions required during the pandemic cut into the ranks of volunteers. The center also had to limit its in-person services.
Nevertheless, the demand for assistance has remained. Each month, for example, the center provides approximately 11 tons of food to Boone County residents, helping between 350 and 400 families. Those numbers represent a 17% increase compared to the spring of 2019.
Hanners says many people needed additional help in March. At that time, as the government, other charitable organizations, and individuals boosted COVID-19 support, demand leveled off. By July the center was receiving more requests for help than usual.
One story of hardship during the pandemic stood out to Hanners. A husband was battling COVID-19 symptoms while his wife received hospice care for cancer. As the couple struggled, the woman’s nurse contacted the Caring Center. The center sprang into action, first reaching out to the man and woman to determine how best to help.
The Caring Center worked to meet the couple’s needs, regularly delivering food and gift cards.
When the woman passed away later in the spring, “there wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” Hanners says. “Then those tears turned to smiles when we realized we’d made things easier for them. They had everything they needed, and they didn’t have to worry about it.”
The practice of checking in with families first, to learn how the Caring Center can help, and then addressing those specific needs, remains at the heart of the organization’s approach.
“We think of it as a chance for everybody to do better – like a second chance,” Hanners says. “Once we get to know you better, we can look at how you got here and where you want to go. We try to walk beside the family to help them become food-secure and self-sufficient.”
The Caring Center is headquartered at 1230 Ransdell Court in Lebanon. For more info including donation and volunteer details, or to seek help, go to thecaringcenter.net, call 765-482-2020, or email info@TheCaringCenter.net.