Portage Township Food Pantry Board President Joseph Kasper is retired and spends his free time serving the community at the food pantry, fishing, or golfing.
The board makes decisions for the food pantry, and Kasper presides over these meetings, having been president for five years. He jokes that he took the job because no one else wanted it, but he finds a good deal of fulfillment in his work.
“I run the meetings on a monthly basis. I go into the public eye to speak with different groups to inform them of what we do in the community,” Kasper said. “I do what I can to get funding to keep the pantry running. It’s basically more of a public relations position, but I’m hands-on, too.”
Before being board president, Kasper was vice president, but he began working with the organization as one of its volunteers in his spare time over 19 years ago. Before his retirement, Kasper was a union boilermaker for 33 years, and he also worked in construction. Kasper recalls being jobless between job contracts, and during this time, he would volunteer at the pantry to keep busy.
In its 37 years, the pantry has changed greatly. When it began, it was housed in an old Gary school on Central Avenue. The school board asked the pantry to move, relocating to the First Presbyterian Church on Lute Road in Portage. The pantry was there for over three years, but then the town gave the pantry a permanent home.
10 years ago, the township trustee, the county commissioner, and the county council worked together to plan a new building that would include the pantry. This building also included the township trustee and the Porter County Health Department.
What pushed Kasper to continue with the pantry was to teach his son that the things he had and benefitted from were not a given for other people.
“My son is really who gave me the drive to help other people,” said Kasper. “He’s passed on now, but I continue to do what he instructed me to do which is to help people. It’s all about community.”
Kasper tries to keep busy and does not give himself a lot of free time. When he does something, he wants to do it to the best of his ability.
“I fish, I golf, and I work on my home, my girlfriend’s home, and my vacation home,” Kasper said with a laugh. “I do a little woodworking and carpentry work.”
Kasper also has many skills, some of which are listed above, but he also began to learn the guitar during COVID-19 lockdown.
“I began learning during the pandemic. It gave me something to do,” he said. “The pantry stayed open, but we never got to have our grand opening of the new building because the pandemic was in full gear.”
Kasper dedicates much of his time to the Portage Township Food Pantry. If someone has questions about the pantry, he is ready to answer them. As the only one with a pickup truck, if there is a delivery coming up, he is ready to help distribute it. His pickup truck services aside, Kasper is committed to finding ways to aid his community.