Mark and Lisa Hall were food challenged in their early years in Noblesville, particularly after a house fire in 1991.
“The community helped us in ways that we will never be able to repay,” said Noblesville’s Mark Hall.  “In those days, there were many suppers that consisted of stew and a (baked) potato.”?Now as an employer of several thousand people in three businesses, he sees this all too often, “people who work hard but just need some help to get to payday.”?He and his wife today are blessed to be in a position to serve others with the creation of the new Feeding Families Hamilton County. He calls it his company’s charity program.?“As a Christian, I’m called to serve my neighbors regardless of circumstances. Today, with so many of our neighbors hurting, we launched a few months ahead of schedule. We seek to honor God as we serve our neighbors,” he said.
For 11 years, Hall’s companies, Tech Trades, PinPoint Resources and TalentLogistiX, used a percentage of sales to purchase groceries for Shepherd Community Center in Indianapolis. But as the Halls looked at 2020, they felt the need to do something in Hamilton County.?Feeding Families Hamilton County was born with the creation of outdoor free food pantries. ?The idea for the pantries originated from a Nazarene Church in Kentucky, said Hall, who learned about the church that has placed about 40 pantries in Bullet County, Kentucky, from his connection with the Shepherd Community Center.?The cause has become his companies’ “Why?” In other words, he said, 
“Our clients can get staffing from dozens of my competitors. To a large degree, they do business with us because there is a bigger purpose behind what we do. It’s why we do what we do.”?Hall said, “We provide people jobs and our customers with amazing talent. We do this to feed families, our employees’ families, our clients’ families, Shepherd Community Center families and now families in Hamilton County.”
The pantries work on an honor system. Hall said, “It works because we know people in the communities of Hamilton County care about their neighbors.?“Take What You Need, Give What You Can” is more than a motto, Hall said. “It’s how we operate. Most people don’t realize that we have over 26,000 food-challenged neighbors in Hamilton County.”
The outdoor free food pantries were created “to meet a defined niche that isn’t being addressed,” he said. “Gap families. These are families that are at the poverty level who are not on public assistance. Likely, all the adults in the home work, They don’t know about trustees, they don’t want to go to a church pantry either due to embarrassment or they can’t find them.”
To get permission and locations for the pantries, Hall met with and made presentations to school boards, county elected officials, officials from the Sheriff’s Department, Noblesville Police, Arcadia Police, Cicero Police, Cicero Planning, Cicero Parks, school officials and dozens of businesses to secure the initial six locations.?“We got a lot of no’s,” Hall said. “These pantries need to be deployed in fairly high visible locations where families won’t be embarrassed to be seen at the pantry.” At the pantries in Kentucky, they learned that a majority of pantry use was after 9 p.m. “Donations happen all day long, and we’ve witnessed this personally several times so far.”
Hall said, “Feedback has been incredibly positive both from donors and from those that have received food. Frankly, it’s beyond what we’d imagined.”
Hall funded all of the materials to build the pantries and the food purchases from the charity budget. Twice a month, the budget is to purchase 170 meals (non-perishables) and deploy them in six pantries that were opened. He hopes to build and place six more pantries after the COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease) pandemic. ?To date, it’s just been the Halls, their daughter and one employee driving the Hamilton County efforts. “The intent is to use employee volunteer hours from our business to do the bi-weekly grocery loads that come from our Feeding Families charity program,” Hall said.?Originally, they did not plan on any donations because it wasn’t a 501(c)3 but rather his companies’ charity program. On Day 2, he started receiving notes of support and requests to donate money. They set a fundraiser on social media and brought in almost $1,000. “Our neighbors are amazing,” he said. In less than a week, they’ve personally witnessed five different neighbors dropping off nonperishable items. “This works well with what we can supply, but this works great with the support of neighbors like we have seen so far,” Hall said. “Several individuals have reached out asking if they can adopt a shelf, or a pantry to stock. It is truly amazing to watch what is happening.”?That said, assists from State Senator candidate J.R. Gaylor, State Rep. Chuck Goodrich, State Sen. Victoria Spartz (candidate for Fifth District Congress) and the Spartz family, Hamilton County Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt, county employee Steve Wood, Gaylor Electric, Ivy Tech and Bill Keevern have helped get pantries built, painted and deployed, said Hall, who previously was a candidate for State Senator himself.?Being longtime friends with Goodrich and Gaylor and Associated Building Contractors, Hall said they connected him with Ivy Tech in Noblesville and Keevern, who designed the pantries and used the materials and the pantry project to teach his students how to build. “It was so cool to watch, and the kids took ownership of the project under Bill and J.R.’s leadership,” Hall said. There were almost a dozen students in the ABC Vocational Training program at Ivy Tech in Noblesville.
Hall used one of his own people, a data scientist, to pull data from the American Cities Survey database and analyze it. He created a heat map of concentrated parts of the county with an abundance of families with four or more members and with income at or slightly above the poverty level. “From there, I went to work knocking on doors, networking with businesses and government officials to get locations as close to these hot spots as we possibly could. Again, lots of no’s, and we pushed through to get these first six locations.” 
The pantries are at Morse Beach in front of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge, Hamilton County 4H Fairgrounds north side at the entrance off of Pleasant Street, Chapel Church at Eighth and Walnut streets, Miller's Auto Body on South 10th Street, Noblesville Schools Educational Services Center behind the west side of the building, and in Arcadia on Main Street west of Indiana 19 at the Hamilton Heights School Corp. building.
Another pantry is planned: for Cicero on Ind. 19, and Hall is struggling to find a second Cicero location along Jackson Street west of Ind. 19. There are two more pantries planned for Noblesville, preferred west of downtown and one on the Noblesville-Westfield border. Two more pantries will be built as backup replacements in case a pantry is damaged. Hall said, “We have received requests for Westfield and Sheridan, but we don’t have bandwidth in the budget to go beyond the 10 placed and 12 builds in 2020.”?He said the program is “so far, so good.” Hall said, “I believe in the good that still exists in people but am under no illusion that some neighbors will take advantage of the approach. We decided to accept that when we put the program in place. The good for the families that will be served far outweigh the few bad decisions made by a few neighbors.” He said the pantries are in high-visibility locations in case someone decides to vandalize or empty a pantry.
Hall said they’ve adopted a hashtag for social media, #greenbeanpower, because “it’s amazing what we can do together with a can of green beans.”
Feeding Families Hamilton County “is as grassroots as you can get,” Hall said. One of the charity’s early supporters is the Hamilton County Fraternal Order of Police 103, which has offered to help plan some suppers in the fall, asking folks to bring nonperishables to stock the pantries in exchange for some spaghetti.?The Halls have set a goal of 300 meals a month provided from their company charity. “That was set before we’ve seen so many neighbors embrace the idea and stock the pantries. Tracking the turnover in the pantry is difficult, but if we can achieve 500 meals a month that would be amazing. I hope that those in need will use the pantries and become a future donor into those same pantries. I expect people to honor the honor system and do what they can to help our neighbors.”?

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.