Joyful Giver Brings Personal Touch To Ministry

Northwest Indiana Catholic Special Magazine Issue for the Diocese of Gary, March 28, 2021 Vol. 35, No. 7 edition

Elizabeth Acevedo fulfills a passionate mission in her work for Catholic Charities Diocese of Gary. As manager of the organization's food pantry, she fights hunger in Northwest Indiana. Providing food to the needy isn't just about helping others. It's personal. It's about helping neighbors and those she has come to call friends.

Acevedo is often the first one people meet at the pantry where she oversees registration of those picking up food. Maintaining records helps her track the number of families the food pantry can serve and provides statistics for its good work. She greets individuals personally, often by name, with a sincere "Hi! How are you today?" accompanied with a friendly smile you can hear through her face mask.

"I try to make it more like family, so they feel like it's not just an organization," she said. "Being in the neighborhoods, I want to be part of the neighborhood."

Elizabeth Acevedo manages the diocesan Catholic Charities’ food pantry in East Chicago. The pantry has expanded to include a mobile food pantry and various pop-up locations.

Prior to taking over operations in July 2019, the pantry was dispersing food twice a month. Acevedo began to dream, considering how the pantry could quickly expand its reach. She introduced mobile and pop-up pantries to distribute food weekly in places where it is most needed.

"I used to work for the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana for years. I didn't expect to work with the food bank anymore, but God had other plans for me," she said. "I made our pantry similar to the food bank, but on a smaller scale."

Soon after, the COVID-19 pandemic made its unwelcome appearance. In early 2020, the pandemic slowed or halted many businesses and nonprofits, but Acevedo decided that stopping wasn't an option.

"I had to make a choice," she recalled. "Either you shut down or you keep going, and I said, I'm going to keep going.'"

With the help of her husband, Victor, she picked up food from the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana, made deliveries to homes, built community partnerships and wrote grant applications.

As the pantry grew, she needed more storage to sort, package and prepare items for deliveries. The pantry expanded into the temporarily unused parts of the Catholic Charities office space but needed a more permanent solution. Acevedo credits then-North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan with connecting her to the right people to transform the building.

"I was working with the township to get deliveries to those who were sick, elderly, disabled or couldn't get out … I called and said, Frank, I need a favor. Can you find someone to open this wall up to adjoin these two rooms?' Not 10 minutes later, I got a call from carpenters who said they could be there the next day. In just two days they opened up that whole space and we were able to move everything to the back of the building."

The pantry averages 80 families a day, and a line often forms for those waiting for food. By law, the pantry must be able to distribute at least three days' worth of food. They often find it possible to give a week's worth of food to each household. Acevedo said the team is overjoyed when all bags of food are gone by the day's end.

"I met a lady who said, I can't tell you how much it helps … I try to budget for medication and I always take from my food,'" shared Acevedo.

Acevedo grew up in East Chicago, went to Holy Trinity Catholic School and is a long-time parishioner of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She boldly admits she prays for God's provision.

"The volunteers I have, I prayed for them … I knew I needed dedicated people," she said. "I don't know what I'd do without them, honestly. I depend a lot on them. They are such great people. I love them a lot, like family."

Volunteers include John Halton, Dave Halton and Ruth Polito. Polito has been working with Acevedo the longest, having first assisted with pantry administrative paperwork and then becoming an integral part of the daily operations.

"It's nice working with Liz," Polito said. "It's a lot of fun, lots of laughs, but still getting everything done."

Local companies' aid keeps the ministry growing. Target Truck Rental in Schererville gifted the pantry with a truck. Meijer in Highland makes donations whenever it can.

Acevedo believes people want to help, to be a part of the community, helping others however they can. She grew up assisting her grandfather at his Valez Grocery store. Remembering times when her big Hispanic family was helped by local food pantries and being able to help others now keeps this energizer food bunny going strong.

At a pop-up food pantry location in Merrillville, Elizabeth Acevedo keeps track of the number of people seeking assistance from Catholic Charities. (Erin Ciszczon photo)

Elizabeth Acevedo (right) and volunteers Ruth Polito, John Halton and Dave Halton discuss the details of the day’s operations. The Catholic Charities Food Pantry Distribution Center is open every Friday morning at the East Chicago office.