MICHIGAN CITY – At the onset of the coronavirus crisis in the United States, a local pantry and resource center held an emergency staff meeting on how to respond.

The Arise and Shine Food and Outreach Center has more than 900 Michigan City residents who depend on their services, according to president and co-founder Antwan Burks.

So closing the doors at 1010 W. Garfield was never an option.

“I really just wanted to define what our role was going to be on the city and county level with the anticipated pandemic,” Burks said. “We weren’t panicking.”

“We quickly realized Arise and Shine was created for times like these,” co-founder and director Alisa Simmons said.

“We were already operating five days a week prior to the crisis, and our company culture is to treat every day like an emergency and address a variety of needs.”

Arise and Shine offers hot meals, a substantial food pantry, clothing, no-cost diabetic shoes, free Wi-Fi and a computer lab, programs for seniors, transformational partnerships and a referral network, she said.

“What makes us special as an organization is that we are family-owned and operated so we can make adjustments quickly depending on the conditions we are faced with.

“This time it’s the coronavirus; next time it could be a different crisis, but the key is being able to adjust and take action quickly, unlike what we tend to see in a bureaucracy.”

Burks said the organization will “continue to serve” during the crisis and “already implemented our action plan” last Saturday.

“We served 70 curbside pickups initiated by text message, and about 20 citizens dined in with us throughout the day, of course practicing social distancing.”

He said his family knows what it’s like to be on both sides of the food line.

“There are a lot of great organizations out there, but it’s our personal life experiences that make us unique,” Burks said.

“My sister and I were born into poverty in the Lakeland Projects of Michigan City, and later raised on the West-Side, so we identify with most who walk through our doors because we have experienced most of the risk factors associated with poverty.”

In their professional lives, both currently work in the medical field, he said. “Alisa is an RN and I have worked in medical sales for many years, working mostly with seniors and the disabled.”

They are also inspired by the recent death of their mother, he said.

“We lost our mother, Mildred L. Hervey, just a few weeks ago. She is the inspiration behind why we do this. She instilled in us the principle of loving thy neighbor and just making an impact on as many lives as possible while we have this short time on earth.

“Arise and Shine gives us the platform to do so and being able to serve during this crisis is a privilege,” Burks said.

“We do not get the sexy headlines, accolades and funding support like some of the larger organizations in town, but we see and feel our impact through the people we serve – the single mom who walks in crying and struggling to make ends meet, the 90-year-old veteran who just wants to come in out of isolation and play a few selections on his harmonica; and the youth who may have been born into poverty and is just looking for encouragement and inspiration.”

The organization started with its current model and name change on July 9, 2019. Prior to then, it was a breakfast ministry that only operated on Saturday mornings.

“In less than a year, since making the change in programs, we have seen a 200 percent increase in membership and now have over 900 documented intake members who utilize our programs and services on a weekly and monthly basis,” Burks said.

Food service manager Anthony Simmons sees it too.

“I manage the hot meals and our pantry, and there are times when our inventory gets so low, we are not sure how we will make it to the next week,” he said.

“But God’s grace always kicks in at the right time and that is why we keep our mission going forward no matter what, because God has shown us too many times he is with us and this mission must go on.”

Burks agrees with the spiritual aspect of Arise and Shine.

“We like to remind people we are not a church,” he said, “but you will definitely see the church in the work we do.

“In honor of our mother we added a new hashtag for this year which is #shineon and that is exactly what we are going to do through this crisis.”

Arise and Shine is offering a pull-up-and-go meal service during the coronavirus lockdown, Burks said. Dates and times can be found on the “Arise and Shine Food and Outreach Center” Facebook page or call 219-221-2111 for more information.

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