Nearing in on a year of patrolling the Pettit Park area of Kokomo, the local Peace Watch may be spreading roots elsewhere in the City of Firsts.
This month members of Peace Watch joined the Ten Point Coalition to patrol some of the worst areas in Indianapolis. The handful of members that ventured southward, including Peace Watch Vice President Chris Wendt, walked through an area known as Sugar Road. The moniker, slapped onto an area that’s anything but sweet, was earned because of frequent violence and heroin trafficking.
“The fact that we walked that road was pretty significant for us because it was a place that was extremely violent, and it’s gone now,” said Wendt. “It reminds us kind of like what was going on on Wabash (Street) before LaMarcus was killed.”
Peace Watch was launched after 17-year-old LaMarcus McGraw was killed in October of last year, gunned down in front of the Village Pantry on the 900 block of West Jefferson Street in Kokomo. Wendt himself was on the scene after the shooting, which led to him and other community members to launch Peace Watch. Since then the group, which is awaiting approval for 501c3 status, established 10 little free food pantries across Kokomo, a thrift store offering clothing and other materials for those in need at a cheap price, and continues to patrol the neighborhood surrounding the site of LaMarcus’s death as well.
However, the group’s mission in Indianapolis this month centered around an effort to procure grant funding from the state. Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill accompanied Ten Point Coalition, Peace Watch, and representatives from two other cities on patrols around Indianapolis.
Up for grabs is $500,000 in grant funding, of which Wendt said Peace Watch has big plans for, should they be awarded a portion of the monies.
“We expect to get some funds. We don’t know how much,” said Wendt. “We know it’s going to be kind of a matching deal. There’s a couple different avenues for the money. One is the grants, and the second is a matching deal where they ask a prominent business in the city to match funds with the state. We know we’re eligible for those kinds of deals, maybe both. I don’t know.”
Wendt highlighted three potential uses for the grant funding.
First of all, he hopes to expand Peace Watch into other neighborhoods that have expressed interest in starting a branch of the organization.
To do so, Wendt said he wants to pay neighborhood “captains” a small amount for part-time work. This work would include organizing and maintaining volunteer walks in specified areas.
“Right now we have a lot of people in the neighborhoods that want to walk, but they don’t have the leadership we do in Pettit Park,” said Wendt. “They don’t have someone who can organize the walks and do what we do over here.”
These same individuals also would help maintain an “intelligence database” to track walkers and allow them to update information gathered on walks.
Secondly, the organization’s Kokomo Little Free Pantry program has expanded since being launched, and as such, the demand continues to grow for more new pantries. Funding would be utilized for materials, labor, and development of the program, according to Wendt. Also, the food doled out at the pantry eventually could be tracked more efficiently, allowing for efforts to be concentrated on families most in need.
“We find the most effective way to fight crime in a community is to make sure people have food and clothing,” said Wendt. “The thing we want to do is allot funds that will guarantee us more stability in filling our Little Free Food Pantries. In fact, we want to expand that program to the point where we offer vocational training, potentially create jobs for people to build these pantries.”
Wendt also expressed interest in expanding the group’s thrift store as, potentially into a second location. This, he said, would allow the organization to possibly create a handful of jobs.
Lastly, should funding be procured, the Peace Watch vice president said he hoped the money could get the ball rolling on a more sustainable model for the nonprofit.
This would come by forming a sort of seed fund, said Wendt, to hire a grant writer.
“The overarching thing is we need to start writing grants,” said Wendt. “We have to start making money organizationally in a way that is sustainable. This money would be a seed fund, almost like a business loan. So if we take all this money and spend it all on food then we are back where we started. We actually have to create an organization out of this.”