Komets Kare Package returns for 10th year this weekend

Program will help VA start food pantry

From left to right are Veterans Administration veterans Brian Thornbury, Tiane Bianski, Lindsay Bartrom, Lauren Batesole and Robert Quigley who are helping the organization organize a food pantry system which will be helped this weekend by Komets Kare Package. (Courtesy photo)

Komets Kare Package is returning for its 10th year at Friday’s and Saturday’s home games for the Komets. Sponsored by News-Sentinel.com, the Komets, WANE and Federal Express, the program asks fans to donate supplies for the Northern Indiana Veterans Administration Health System.

Representatives from the VA and Komets Kare Package will be on hand as fans enter the Memorial Coliseum arena to accept packages and donations.

This year, along with the usual items such as gloves, hats, magazines, CDs, DVDs, puzzle books, personal toiletries, hygiene products, blankets and cleaning supplies, we’re asking Komets fans to consider donating food that can be used to help the VA start a local pantry system. The Northern Indiana system serves more than 45,000 veterans throughout the region.

Food pantries are a national priority for the VA, especially to help homeless veterans, and local organizers want to start their program in January by having emergency food boxes available. The next phase would be to make food boxes available to all needy veterans and their families followed by a full-fledged pantry possibly by mid-summer. There’s no way to tell how many people could be served under the new system.

“We’ve never done anything like this,” said Lindsay Bartom, chief of the nutrition and food services for Northern Indiana Health Care. “We do have our social work service trying to track right now how many people would be in need of an emergency box.”

The VA is currently building a stockpile of supplies so they’ll be read to start in January. There will also be a need for volunteers when the rest of the program starts this summer. Interested volunteers can contact Luther Green at (260) 460-1435 weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“In order for this to pull through, we really need the community’s help and awareness,” said VA Voluntary Services Manager Erica Jones. “All of this is going to be based off donations, whether monetary or the items to go into the boxes. It will be successful based off the community’s resources. We are going to have to be dependent on people helping others.”

Because of regulations, the VA is prohibited from asking for donations but is allowed to provide information when asked what they need.

The list of food items being asked for include canned items spaghetti sauce, pasta, pork and beans, chili or stew, fruit, tuna, salmon or chicken and mixed vegetables and packaged products such as tuna, chicken or hamburger helper, pudding packs, peanut butter and jelly, cereals, oatmeal, boxed potato dishes, rice and pasta side dishes, macaroni and cheese and breakfast bars.

The VA has no facilities to store fresh or frozen food and would prefer not to deal with liquids.

“As a college student (at Purdue), I helped out at a local food pantry, and I just really enjoyed helping and saw first-hand the impact it can have on families,” Bartrom said. “This really touched home when I saw other VAs were doing this, and I wanted to make sure it came to us, too.”

The VA will also take monetary donations. For people looking to make donations during the day, the Federal Express Shipping Center at 3620 Independence Dr., will accept drop-offs.

“This program is really important to helping us get off to a good start,” Jones said. “Komets Kare Package will reach a lot of folks, and those Komets fans are pretty awesome in supporting the community as this program has shown for years.”