Today felt like the first “real” day of our trip in the sense that we woke up prepared to serve how Shepherd needed for the majority of our day. The weekend provided our team a great opportunity to get to know the organization we’re working with, meet some of the immediate community members they serve at church, and connect with the larger Taylor community by sharing dinners and performing acts of service with various alumni who live in the greater Indianapolis area. I believe most of our team was excited and ready to get to work today, discovering how we can partner with the mission of Shepherd Community Center during a normal, operating day.
We began the day by joining the students enrolled in the school located at Shepherd at breakfast. Then, each team member was placed with a classroom for the morning, assisting the teacher and students as they needed. For some grades this was helping with math homework or handwriting lessons. For others it was engaging in free play with the preschoolers so the classroom teachers could finish required observations of each student that are difficult to complete in a regular day. After joining the students for lunch and recess, our team helped say goodbye to the younger students who dismiss midday. In this process, we passed out large totes of food to each student that are intended to ease the burden of providing food for the children over the course of Spring Break that begins on Friday for these students.
During the afternoon, we took a break from work and had the opportunity to take a tour of Indianapolis with a Shepherd staff member. This tour provided our team with a better perspective of what poverty looks like in the city, why and how it has developed over the years, and what role Shepherd is playing to serve the neighborhood in which it is located.
On this tour, one of the points that was of special interest to me was the fact that the immediate neighborhood Shepherd serves is a food desert. This means that within the defined neighborhood limits, there are few to no restaurants and/or grocery stores. Specific to this location, the only restaurants are small, family-owned establishments. These families have very little access to fresh, affordable, nutritious food.
Provision of food is one of the largest outreaches Shepherd offers to its community in several different areas. Our team saw this enacted three times today alone as we ate two separate meals with the students at school. These meals are free to all students twice a day when school is in session are are more nutritious than the average school meal. Volunteers and staff spend the morning in the kitchen to prepare these meals for each student present that day.
The school also sends home weekend bags of food with many families to ensure their students have access to food when they are not in school. Many students are only guaranteed the ten meals they are served at school, but Shepherd knows that the time from Friday lunch to Monday breakfast is far too long for a student to go without a meal. The center does its best to meet these needs. This is also being done for every student over Spring Break, as seen through the bags of food our team had the opportunity to pass out today and will continue to pass out throughout the week.
The center also provides food for other community members through a food pantry, community garden, and hen house. These outreaches require some effort from community members to receive their goods, such as cleaning the hen house one day a week, in return receiving any eggs that were laid that day. It was both humbling to view the city from the eyes of someone who works with the community members receiving services from Shepherd as well as encouraging to know that the center is truly working to meet relevant needs that exist.
After lunch today, our team discovered that Shepherd had been given a handful of Pacers tickets as a donation from the team itself! The two organizations have a longstanding relationship, and the center will occasionally be given tickets to use. We had a chance to see a bit of local color and pride at the Pacers game and walking through downtown Indianapolis. Opportunities arise in unexpected places, but we didn’t have other evening plans, so we spent our time enjoying each others’ company!
As we enter into the rest of the week, we would appreciate your continued prayers for our team health. Two members of our group started the trip under the weather, but they’re on the upswing now. We’re praying they heal fully and the rest of the team remains healthy so we can serve and partner with Shepherd most effectively and be ready when God provides opportunities for action.