Retired professor builds community connections through Whitley food pantry
By Emily Cox
Tuna fish sandwiches and My-T-Fine chocolate pudding — this is the meal Jay Zimmerman looked forward to making as a teenager when his parents went out. In college, Zimmerman and his roommates shopped together and taught each other how to cook, well sort of. The first thing they cooked was a stew with too much thickener. They placed the inedible dish by the back door, where it stayed for months, turning into somewhat of a science experiment. Today, the emeritus professor commands the kitchen, and he has blended his love for food with passionate activism within the community. The former psychologist has spent decades creating programs and events to promote mental health, diversity and social justice in Muncie.
“I came to Muncie 45 years ago with my wife, and I immediately started digging into the community through projects, such as Facing Racism, but I was less familiar with issues related to food insecurity, which I know now influences every other issue we face,” said Zimmerman, who serves as a board member on the Whitely Community Council. “But after I retired, I was approached to start a food pantry in Whitley, and I jumped at the opportunity to help sustain this vibrant neighborhood.”
Planting support in the Whitley Community
Not long after, the Whitely Community Pantry and Food Insecurity Team emerged. Zimmerman applied his background with program development and grant writing to gain support to open the pantry doors in fall 2016. Operating out of Harvest Christian Fellowship Church, 1010 East Centennial, the pantry is open to Whitley residents from 4-6 p.m. Zimmerman said the pantry serves about 70 families, some of who also volunteer.
The pantry features free items, but most goods are assigned a point value and visitors are allowed to take as many items and whatever combination of items that add up to an assigned point value based on the number of individuals in each family.
Zimmerman is quick to educate community members and volunteers about those they serve, dispelling common myths about pantry visitors. People are skeptical of someone who comes to the pantry dressed in a “spiffy suit,” Zimmerman said, but that may be the one nice outfit they have, and they want to present themselves well when they go out into the community. The suit isn’t an indication of wealth.
Pantry expands to area library
Seeing the need and pantry’s popularity, Zimmerman initiated a second pantry, this one inside Muncie Public Library’s Connection Corner, across the street from Longfellow Elementary. In the library, three-tiered wooden shelves are stocked with apples, herbs and non-perishable food items provided primarily by Minnetrista, Purdue Extension, Aquasystems, and College Avenue Methodist Church. The fresh produce goes quickly, as kids come to study and snack after school each day. Librarians encourage students to take food home to their families.
Learn more about Connection Corner or call the library at 765-747-8216.
The most rewarding part about what Zimmerman does is the building of relationships and seeing the caring, giving nature of those who are in need. Zimmerman said those who give the most are the ones who have the least.
“What I’ve seen in this community is just an enormous outpouring of giving. It’s very moving to me,” he said. “It’s incredible how many people are involved in trying to make this a better community.”
- 1 large purple eggplant, thinly sliced
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese blend
- 1 large jar spaghetti sauce
- Basil, garlic, salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil
Directions: Preheat the oven to 450 F. Slice off and discard the ends of the eggplant, then thinly slice eggplant rounds. Brush each side of the slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill eggplant a few minutes on each side. Keep grilled eggplant between paper towels while you heat the spaghetti sauce. In a baking dish, create layers of eggplant covered by sauce and shredded cheeses (about three or four layers), then bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit 15 minutes before serving.