Helping those in need is a service a number of organizations focus on during the holiday season, but “One” community organization is beginning to make that a year-round effort.
“One Portage,” a non-profit group under the umbrella of Our Community, Inc., will host their sixth annual free Thanksgiving Dinner this week at Willowcreek Middle School, but have taken steps in recent years to provide the needy in Portage with food during other times of the year as well.
“Our mission is to love people,” said Staci Pearman, a member and former deacon of Crossroads Family Church in Portage who runs “One Portage” and began the Thanksgiving Day tradition that last year saw 297 meals delivered and countless others given away during the Willowcreek dinner.
The Thanksgiving dinner began just at Crossroads church for the first two years, but then rose in popularity each year since 2011 when other area churches decided to take part in the charitable act.
The effort didn’t really have a name, until questions from the public on how they could help created the need for a website that would address those inquiries.
“We saw ‘One Portage’ was open so we named it that for a website, and it has taken off since,” Pearman said.
Other local churches and community organizations have gradually jumped on board, and since the recent awarding of Our Community with a 501(c)3 tax exempt status, for-profit businesses have joined in on providing resources.
“Meijer has been wonderful, Bass Pro Shops donated the turkey frying oil, Starbucks gives all our volunteers coffee in the morning and afternoon and the local Trustee office supplies paper products,” Pearman said, noting Portage Township Schools’ donation of the janitorial service for Thursday’s event and Minuteman Press, which has provided thousands of flyers to promote the community get together.
“A lot of people want to help. It’s the most amazing thing,” Pearman said.
But ‘One Portage’ is not only a resource on Thanksgiving Day. Since their inception and growth, the organization has added a Christmas Project and Back-to-School event to help struggling families in the Portage school system have the meals and school supplies needed to succeed.
The Christmas Project, Pearman, says, involves providing elementary school students whom Portage schools officials identify as ones being in “dire need” a box full of two-weeks worth of meals over the winter break. The need for this was evident since the schools have a summer feeding program makes meals available to those children and families during the long break and backpacks filled with two days worth of food are sent home every weekend. But during winter and spring breaks, the need still persists.
“We’d like to fill that gap during the winter break,” Pearman said. “We fill them with healthy food, like meatloaf, chicken and beef stu. If you give them garbage, they will feel like garbage, but if you give them good stuff they will feel like a strong part of the community.”
While this effort started small in 2012, last year’s Christmas Project saw 107 kids represent some 60 families in need.
A back-to-school event held every July provides Portage students with backpacks full of school supplies. But since the Portage Township Trustees Office already has a similar event with supplies being given out, Pearman said One Portage is exploring the possibility of joining forces and providing clothing needs such as socks and underwear to compliment what the Trustees office already does.
“If we come together, we can accomplish even more,” Pearman said.
Right now, “One Portage” is the only branch under Our Community, Inc., but Pearman said interest has been shown from residents in Lake Station, Chesterton and Hobart in having similar programs implemented in those towns.
This year’s “community Thanksgiving dinner” will be from 2-6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day at Willowcreek Middle School. Pearman said volunteers (which are limited to 300, although many more step up to the plate) are preparing to feed 900, including several that will be unable to make it to Willowcreek and will need the full-course meals delivered.
In addition to Crossroads, Nativity of our Savior, Portage Bible Church, City Point Church, Grace Church of the Nazarene and Central Church are all taking part this year.
“Without all of the people who volunteer and donate resources, we couldn’t accomplish any of this,” Pearman said, noting how it all comes down to community - and Portage is a strong community.
“Portage is like Mayberry,” said Pearman, a 20-year resident of the city. “If your neighbor’s grass is too long, you go over there and find out why and help them instead of calling the city to report it. Everyone should want to live in a community like that.”