The Beacon

Posted Nov 03, 2010 by 3 Comments

This past week I have been working on a small side project for Elanco, an Indianapolis-based animal health company with a strong focus on ending global hunger.  For the project, I spent time interviewing several families and individuals connected with Shepherd Community Center, one of World Next Door’s partner ministries.

Each story I heard gave such a unique perspective on hunger, poverty and the incredible work of Shepherd that I had no choice but to share them here.

You’ll find the other stories here.  I encourage you to read them all.  Who knows?  Maybe they’ll change your perspective as much as they did mine…


It was early afternoon on a chilly autumn day when I went to visit Joe.  His house, about a ten minute walk from Shepherd Community Center is in the middle of a struggling neighborhood on the near-east side of Indianapolis.

Despite the cold (and the fact that I had forgotten a jacket), I decided to walk.

When I got to the house, I noticed a bearded man in the front yard shoving fallen leaves into a plastic trash bag.

Joe and Barbra’s neighborhood, hit hard by the financial crisis.

“Are you Joe?” I asked.

“Yeah, that’s me.” He said.  We shook hands. 

“Come on in.”

Inside the tiny two-bedroom house Joe introduced me to his mother, Barbra.  After a bit of small talk about the weather (and after I explained just who I was and what I was doing!), the three of us sat down in their small, cramped living room.

I began asking them about their lives.

Never Been Wealthy

Barbra was more than happy to tell me all about herself and her family.  When I began probing a bit to understand their current economic situation, she started telling me about her early days.

“Well,” she began, “our family has never been wealthy.”

Joe and his mother, Barbra in their small living room.

Barbra, who is now 78 years old, dropped out of high school at age 14 to work.  It was one year after the end of World War Two, and the American economy was still recovering from the Great Depression.  Her family needed the money.

A few years later she landed a relatively well-paying job packing and sorting medications for Eli Lilly, but this was not to last.  After having nine children, Barbra needed to stay home, relying on her husband’s modest income as a tool and die maker to provide for the family.

After showing me an old black and white picture of several of her children, Barbra described what it was like raising a family with very little money.  “We never had expensive vacations,” she explained.

“What did you do for vacations?” I asked.

“Well, sometimes we would drive down to Shelbyville and go to The Nickel where they had hamburgers for a nickel… although you can’t do that anymore!” She laughed.  “All the kids would get hamburgers and then we’d go to a park where they could run around.  They loved that.”

Barbra showing me a picture of several of her children. Joe is the little one on the far right of the picture.

For some reason, this fact really hit me hard.  Over the years my family has gone on vacations to Florida, New York City, Cape Cod… But their family went to Shelbyville, about 30 minutes southeast of Indianapolis.  I didn’t realize until then just how much I’ve taken all those “exotic” vacations for granted.

A Difficult Situation

Barbra continued her story. As the years went by her children grew up, moved out and started families of their own.  Unfortunately, the family’s economic situation never really improved.  Some of her kids moved to other states.  Some even lost contact with her forever.

Today, Barbra lives with her youngest son, Joe.   Because of her ongoing illnesses and Joe’s recent disability (a severely broken ankle due to a construction accident at his former job), they are caught in a difficult situation.  Barbra is too sick and old to work, and Joe can’t get his old roofing job back because of his ankle.

Besides, if Joe were to find a job, he’d have to spend just about every dollar he made to pay for someone to take care of his mother.

So, they rely on Barbra’s social security checks to pay the rent.  For food, they use the food stamps Joe qualifies for because of his disability.

It isn’t enough.

Barbra was excited to show me a pair of fleece-lined shoes she bought for $1 at a nearby church clothing bank.

Even after hours of coupon clipping, they rarely make it to the end of the month with food to spare.  And with no income other than Barbra’s measly social security checks, they have almost no money to pay for other necessities like clothes.

“We go to K-Mart maybe one time a year,” Barbra explained. 

That fact hit me like a ton of bricks.  I had never thought of a new piece of clothing from a store like K-Mart as a luxury before.

Each month, as the food stamps disappear, hunger begins to loom.  Joe and Barbra wonder how they will get food on the table.

A Beacon of Hope

Thankfully, they are not alone in their struggle against hunger.  Just 10 minutes away is Shepherd Community Center, a beacon of hope and life for Barbra and her son.

When they struggle to make ends meet at the end of the month, Shepherd is there to provide basic necessities like food, household items and hygiene supplies.  Every Saturday, Shepherd offers a free medical clinic, indispensible for an aging woman with no health insurance.

The staff and volunteers of Shepherd are living out the kingdom of God for Barbra and Joe in some incredible, and tangible, ways.

After chatting for a little while longer, I gathered my things, thanked them and left.  As I made my way back to Shepherd that afternoon, I began to wonder… “What if Shepherd wasn’t here?  What would Joe and Barbra do then?”

Shepherd’s food pantry is a literal life-saver for many families on the near-east side of Indianapolis.

I honestly don’t have an answer to that question.  Shepherd has become such an integral pillar of support on the near-east side of Indy that few families in their neighborhood can claim to be unaffected.


It’s a new month and Joe can once again go to the grocery store, coupons and food stamps in hand.  As the end of the month draws near, however, things will undoubtedly get tight again.  But Joe and Barbra can take great comfort in a simple fact:  Shepherd won’t let them go hungry.

Shepherd Community Center has been working in that neighborhood for 25 years, and it’s not going anywhere…

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Next Steps
    • Visit Shepherd’s website to learn more about their fantastic organization.
    • Pray for Joe and Barbra. As Barbra’s health continues to decline, they will need lots of support from friends and neighbors.
    • Consider donating to Shepherd Community Center. Every dollar you give helps families in need across the near east side of Indianapolis. Click here to contribute.
    • Volunteer with Shepherd. From one-time encounters to weekly commitments, they have ways for everyone to get involved. Click here for more information!
    Next Steps

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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  1. andy fitzgerald said... 


    November 3rd, 2010 at 6:13 pm  


    this is andy fitzgerald (jenny “gates” fitzgerald’s husband). thanks for the updates. reading your articles definitely helps bring the world “next door” to me even as I read from san jose, ca. your articles help introduce me to the people and places that are of interest to me but i cannot visit. thanks for your faithfulness.


  2. Amy Sorrells said... 


    November 4th, 2010 at 10:14 pm  

    You had me at “The Nickel.” Wow. I can’t get thr thought of those kiddos and their burgers and their fun time at the park outta my head. Precious. Gripping. Knee-buckling. Thanks again, Barry, and to Barbra, too, for sharing her story. Lord have mercy on us all.

  3. Jim M. said... 


    November 8th, 2010 at 11:14 pm  

    Barry, I have had a little time to get caught up here, and reading the pieces about Shepherd blows me away.

    You know you asked the question, what would_____do if Shepherd were not here? I hope your readers were whacked by that one…I was.

    Shepherd, and other similar organizations stand everyday in the void of life for so many people living in darkness. Thanks for turning the light on with this series of stories.

    The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are just around the corner, what a perfect time for people to get involved, It takes so little to have an impact on poverty.God has shown us over and over, He can turn just a little, into just enough.

    Peace to you my friend.

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