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South side pantry adapts to better serve influx of Syrian refugees

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- A food pantry is beginning a new chapter. Project Love at Horizon Central, a church near Fountain Square, is beginning to help Syrian families after finding out they weren't getting helped.

Project Love, which has a food and clothing pantry, has been around for seven years but leaders were ready to take on a new challenge rather than continue to only help the 45 families it serves each month.

"This is something new to everyone in our volunteer organization, in terms of our ministry," said the pantry's director Kenny Washington.

Some members of the church have ties a few blocks away at the Immigrant Welcome Center, which connects immigrants and refugees to resources in Indianapolis to help get them off their feet and build successful lives in America. The center isn't a resettlement agency, but volunteers, called Natural Helpers, go out to talk to leaders in an immigrant community to find out what they need.

“Many [refugees] have come to our helper with some of the basic needs that they are struggling to fill," said Terri Morris Downs, executive director of the Immigrant Welcome Center, which has helped over ten thousand people from dozens of countries in the last ten years.

Morris Downs estimated there are close to 100 Syrian refugee families around Indianapolis.

The pantry is only open one day a month, which gives workers there plenty of time to restock the shelves. On the fourth Sunday of each month, the pantry opens to help people get the food they need. Now there are foods on the shelves the pantry has never had before.

“Syrians don’t eat any processed foods," said the pantry distribution coordinator Julie Montgomery.

Humus, garbanzo beans and more fresh produce are more common items that the pantry is getting and in still searching for.

“We had food groups we had to think about, in terms of not serving them meat that wasn’t allowed," Washington said.

Over the next month, besides restocking the shelves, leaders at the pantry are remodeling the space to make it more user friendly for its old and new families coming through the door.

The pantry and church are partnered with another nearby congregation, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, which has an American couple who is fluent in Arabic to help translate for the refugees and better explain how the pantry works.

Anyone wanting more information on what resources are available through the Immigrant Welcome Center can click here or call (317) 808-2326, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.