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Carmel Interfaith Alliance raises $21k in gift cards for 600 kids

CARMEL, Ind. (WISH) — Hundreds of families in Hamilton County hit hard by the pandemic got a little extra help thanks to an alliance of churches and other religious institutions.

For some recipients, the gesture was so powerful, it led to tears.

The weekly line at Carmel High School goes out to the street and down the block every Wednesday with an average of 600 kids on the free and reduced lunch program picking up a week’s worth of free breakfasts and lunches.

Last week, they got two extra pieces of plastic: a $25 gift card to Meijer and a $10 gift card to Dairy Queen. The surprise funds are a result of more than a dozen faith communities giving big at a time when it’s easy to hold back, making a big difference for hundreds of families like Andréa Schneider’s.

Schneider is a professional dogsitter and dogwalker.

“Being a single mom, it’s really hard to find jobs that allow you to really be there for your kid and be involved with their lives,” she said.

Her daughter Anastasia is a sixth-grader.

It may seem a bit ironic that they have an anole, a type of lizard which can change color, as a pet, and not a canine. Still, considering the usual day for Schneider used to consist of a dozen visits in rapid fire, with a few overnight stays, it makes perfect sense. Von Coco, the family’s lizard, is the perfect low-maintenance pet for the family.

But that was before the pandemic.

Schneider’s gone from 20 clients a week, sometimes 12 a day, to almost nothing.

“I have 1 client a week now. But they’ve been so kind to support me,” she said.

It’s not easy. Other clients have tipped her even if they don’t need her services and she stepped up hours at her other part-time gig at a nonprofit.

But the school’s free and reduced lunch program, including the weekly trips to pick up breakfasts and lunches for Anastasia, help the cash flow stretch a little further.

“There’s a misconception that everyone in Hamilton Couty is rich and that’s not the case. We need help sometimes,” Schneider said.

Last week, there was something extra though.

In collaboration with the Merciful H.E.L.P. Center which provided the free food over spring break, there was the $35 in gift cards to Meijer and Dairy Queen to all families who picked up a meal thanks to the Carmel Interfaith Alliance.

About a dozen congregations across faith lines contributed, among them Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu, raising a total of $21,000. 

“We are unified in our desire to feed people that need fed,” said Rev. Dr. Shelly Wood who is the senior pastor at Orchard Park Presbyterian Church and the Secretary/Treasurer of the Carmel Interfaith Alliance.

Rev. Wood said her initial idea was $6,000. But the giving far exceeded that in a time that’s not easy for congregations either. She said instead of following the instinct to hold back, that’s exactly when faith calls to give over and above.

“At the end of the day, if we just have money in our pockets but we’ve not made a difference in our community, we failed,” Rev. Wood said.

That difference has already been felt.

Schneider has used the Meijer gift card for fruits and veggies along with other necessities.

As for the Dairy Queen gift card, there are bigger plans. She wants to celebrate with Anastasia who is on the honor roll for the third time in a row and actually has straight A’s this semester, a period when it’d be a lot easier to get discouraged you’re not around your friends and teachers.

“There is a poverty in Hamilton County, even Carmel. You just don’t see it,” Schneider said. “Dairy Queen is an extra treat that we wouldn’t necessarily go out for and now we can. It’s a gift.”

There are almost 800 kids who are registered to pick up free breakfasts and lunches at Carmel High School every week, just a fraction of the overall free and reduced lunch population, but usually about 600 show up.