In the Spirit of Giving
Good Samaritan Network of Hamilton County Assists Families Through Annual Holiday Distributions
Photography Provided by GSN
Each holiday season, families throughout Hamilton County in need of some assistance with procuring food, clothing or toys have the opportunity to turn to Good Samaritan Network (GSN) of Hamilton County, which organizes distribution programs around Thanksgiving and Christmas time.
GSN Founder and Executive Director Nancy Chance says the holiday programs are part of a year-round effort to lift up county residents who’ve fallen on hard times for a variety of reasons.
“Through our agencies and pantries we serve about 47,000 clients in Hamilton County throughout the year, which is 18% of our population here,” says Chance, who grew up in Noblesville. “And that’s not just the holiday services we do. That includes temporary services of some kind within our network. In our network, we have car repair, an energy assistance program and cancer funds. Our goal is to catch people before they start spiraling down and things get worse.”
Chance unofficially founded GSN back in 1980 after Fishers, Carmel and Noblesville police and firefighters expressed their collective interest in a coordinated effort to provide for families in need around holiday time. Fifteen years later, the organization was formally founded as a nonprofit and continues to assist thousands of Hamilton County residents year after year.
“We’ve tried to be the umbrella organization to coordinate the network of agencies, churches, food pantries and businesses in the county so we can all be more effective and reduce duplication,” Chance says. “All the agencies and pantries work together and have met once a month since 1980.”
GSN kicked off its annual holiday assistance events this year with a Thanksgiving giveaway on November 23, which included distribution of food boxes and baskets to Hamilton County residents at the Hamilton County 4H Fairgrounds in Noblesville. The event was followed by meal deliveries on Thanksgiving Day for elderly and disabled individuals throughout the county.
On December 14 GSN continues its volunteer-based work with its Christmas distribution program at the Fairgrounds, which Chance says is the organization’s biggest event and includes toys, food and clothing.
“We ran the Christmas distribution all the way through New Year’s Day last year,” she says, adding that the GSN was able to assist 26,978 people through its 2018 holiday distribution efforts. “Basically families sign up and they can be privately sponsored by churches, businesses, clubs and private individuals. Usually, about three-fourths of those who sign up are privately sponsored, and the rest we take care of at the 4H building.”
Many factors can prompt individuals and families to seek support — job losses and mental or physical illnesses to name a few — and Chance saw an increase in the need for aid after the financial downturn back in 2008 left many county residents unemployed. Those in need of GSN services or holiday assistance can submit on application online or through the mail.
Volunteerism plays a crucial role in GSN operations and, according to Chance, the organization counts on more than 29,000 volunteer hours per year to make its various events and programs run smoothly.
“On top of our staff we have 16 volunteers – retirees and business people – that come in at least once or twice a week to do skills work and specialized projects for us,” she adds. “That’s really what’s allowed us to keep up with all of our programming.”
GSN works alongside 268 agencies, 43 pantries, 280 churches, 69 schools and five hospitals for its various programming and services, which include food and shelter, financial assistance, education and transportation.
Chance says one of her biggest challenges is continually raising awareness of the need for assistance throughout Hamilton County, which she says is an area many Central Indiana residents tend not to associate with underserved individuals and families.
“A lot of people we help are working and sometimes working two or three jobs trying to hold a family together,” she says. “If you’re making $40,000 a year, after taking care of two kids and paying rent, utilities and insurance, that doesn’t leave you with much. We also help people who work here in the county but don’t live here because of the high cost of living. We want to help people to stay stabilized and keep their jobs and have their families stable.”
The Good Samaritan Network of Hamilton County is located at 12933 Parkside Drive in Fishers. The hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
For more information, including volunteer and donation details, a frequently-asked-questions page, a Hamilton County food pantry search map and more, visit gsnlive.org or call 317-842-2603.