By Heidi Unger
A year ago, when Rev. Trey Flowers brought his family to Irvington and became pastor of Downey Avenue Christian Church, he was intrigued with the neighborhood’s close community feel and the network of churches working together. “It was a breath of fresh air,” he says. “Irvington is such a caring, tight-knit community. It’s a community with a heart for welcoming all kinds of people into the neighborhood.”
ICAN (pronounced “I can”) is the name of the network of churches he was referring to, a 20-year-old nonprofit organization that serves the greater Irvington area with two food pantries, a clothing closet, an assistance bureau, and a sliding-fee counseling center. Dozens of volunteers lend a hand, and generous givers fund the more than $25,000 it takes to run the various ICAN programs each year.
Noticing that people outside the churches contributed time and money to ICAN, and already having committed to serving everyone — those of any faith or having no association with any religion — ICAN’s leadership decided to restructure the organization in a way that’s even more inclusive.
“We know that it’s not just churches that care about people in need,” Trey explains. “So we decided to broaden the ICAN network and actually change the name from the Irvington Churches Advocacy Network to the Irvington Community Advocacy Network to reflect that we wanted to be able to build partnerships with people of all faiths, people who are not part of the church, of people who just want to make a difference in the community.”
Currently, ICAN is actively seeking partnerships with businesses, community organizations, individuals, and families who want to help support this mission, filling a real need in the community. And Trey acknowledges a community that’s ready for those partnerships. “When we think of all the great organizations that are already in Irvington, whose work is it to care for those who don’t have access to housing, to transportation, to money, to healthcare? Who is speaking for those people, and what is it in the identity of the Irvington community that says we value serving and caring for people that would be part of the great thing that it is already?”
Clearly the answer is that ICAN is taking responsibility for serving and caring for those in need, with support from a community that has a proven track record for following through on these types of initiatives. “It’s a critical time, and there’s a lot we can do,” Trey says. “It’s just tapping into the heart that’s already there and giving it a voice and organization in a way that makes a difference.”
Helping individuals and families in crisis starts at the ICAN Assistance Center, where social worker Rosie Butler assesses needs and makes financial contributions to people who live in the broader Irvington area, those who need financial assistance with utilities, housing, or transportation. From there, Rosie can refer those in need to ICAN partners who assist with food, clothing, or counseling.
ICAN primarily focuses on serving those who live in and around the wider Irvington area. Organizers recognize that many of the people they serve may be outside of the official boundaries of Irvington but that our neighbors in nearby communities should still be able to access these important services.
The food pantries offer nutritious food to those in need, serving hundreds of people a year. Seasonally, they offer fresh-from-the-garden produce as well. Both food pantry locations are handicap-accessible. See each pantry’s website for geographic boundaries and other details.
ICAN Food Pantry at Downey Avenue Christian Church
For the latest info, follow ICAN Food Pantry on Facebook.
111 South Downey Avenue, Indianapolis, IN 46219
Open Thursday, 1-3 p.m. (every Thursday except holidays)
Gently used clothes in good condition are available to those in need.
Trained, professional therapists offer compassionate counseling on a sliding-fee scale adjusted according to income.
Other household assistance
ICAN connects those in need to assistance with utilities, transportation, housing, and more.
Individuals who would like to support ICAN’s efforts can do so in four ways: contribute money, food, or clothing; volunteer time and skills; sign the memorandum of understanding (MOU) and advocate for the organization; and/or participate in a fundraising event.
For the latest information about what is needed in our community, please follow ICAN’s Facebook accounts or sign up for the ICAN monthly newsletter by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Financial contributions can be accepted at any of the ICAN program locations. You can also write a check to “Irvington Community Advocacy Network” and mail it to ATTN: ICAN Office, Irvington United Methodist Church, 30 North Audubon Road, Indianapolis, IN 46219. Direct contributions to the ICAN Food Pantry can be made by debit/credit card online by clicking here.
To donate food, please drop it off during regular pantry hours or contact the food pantry to arrange another drop-off time. Gardeners with surplus produce are welcome to contribute, but please first discuss the intended donation with the food pantry coordinator so she can ensure that it’s put to good use.
Donations of gently used clean clothing are very much appreciated. Please contact the clothing closet in advance to arrange a drop-off time.
At those times when ICAN doesn’t meet its financial goals, the organization has to scale back its services. That’s why fundraising is such an important component. Throughout the year, ICAN partners host various fundraisers, including a cozy winter soup supper where neighbors can share their favorite homemade soups and spend some time together. Watch for fundraising event announcements throughout the year in ICAN’s newsletter and social media feeds.
ICAN relies on dozens of volunteers each week. “There’s a lot of work to be done,” Trey says, mentioning volunteers who sort and organize food and clothing donations, guide patrons through the food pantry to let them know what choices are available, tend the community garden, serve on the advocacy board, and organize and staff fundraising events. Contact the ICAN office if you’d like to lend a hand.
For those who are interested in a leadership and relationship-building volunteer role, the advocacy board is forming now, and they need a few more people to serve in that capacity. “It’s a group of people from the community who help us implement the vision and build partnerships and relationships in the community,” Trey explains. “They will be the ones going out and being ambassadors for ICAN and helping us get our name out there.” The first official advocacy board meeting will be Wednesday, August 23, at 6:30 p.m., at 5350 University Avenue (the Bona Thompson). Contact the ICAN office to find out more about serving on this board.
One of the easiest ways to support ICAN is to sign the MOU and pledge to support ICAN services in voice and action. When you sign the agreement (as IDO has done), you pledge to support the organization in whatever way suits you. It can be as simple as telling potential donors about ICAN or directing people in need to ICAN services. The PDF is posted here: MOU ICAN and Partners.
It’s a great resource for anyone who’s ever been approached on the street by someone in need asking for a handout. “Help us embed this into the fabric of the community where people know who we are, know what programs are available, and if you encounter somebody in need, that you don’t just turn them away but you just help direct them to a place where they can get the help,” Trey says.
Currently, a number of individual residents, crime watch groups, neighborhood businesses and nonprofits, churches, and city entities have signed the MOU. Inspired by Open for Service, ICAN intends to order window clings that anyone can display, announcing their support for the organization. “We want to get the word out, let people get credit for supporting us, and encourage other people to support us as well,” Trey explains.
If you or someone you know is in need, please use the above contact information to connect with an ICAN partner who can help, with no obligation from the recipient. ICAN pledges to treat all people with respect, care, and fairness. They will provide services without requirement for a person to hold a particular religious faith, sexuality, marital status, gender, or country of origin.