Food pantry to expand across town
By ANDREW MCGINN
When Dianne Blackmer arrived at the food pantry last Wednesday morning, there were already 11 people waiting to get in.
The pantry didn’t open for another hour.
By the time the last sack of groceries walked out the door that morning, 34 families had come and gone.
“There’s not much movement in there with 34 families,” said the Rev. Devin Wolters, of First Baptist Church.
On a normal Wednesday, the Greene County Christian Action Resource Center will serve between 15 and 20 families at its food pantry, located at 112 E. Harrison St., according to Blackmer, pantry director.
But it would seem there’s no such thing as a normal Wednesday anymore.
“We had two more new people we’d never seen before,” Blackmer said.
The ARC is bulging at the seams, which is why the board will be purchasing the bigger Clark Plumbing and Heating building near the overpass at 1006 N. Vine St. for $69,000.
“We’re going to be gaining quite a bit of space,” Blackmer said.
That means Blackmer will finally get her own garage back.
The ARC has 10 freezers — nine of which are at the food pantry.
“And one of them is in my garage,” Blackmer said, “because there was no place to plug it in at the food pantry.”
The ARC board will be closing on its new building Dec. 13.
The board is looking to raise a total of $99,000 to purchase the building, make essential renovations and create adequate parking.
The work will likely be done in the spring.
The board already has raised about $25,000 for a new building.
An offering for the move will be taken Sunday during the Greene County Clergy Association’s annual ecumenical Thanksgiving service, to be held this year at First Baptist Church, 104 W. Central Ave., at 6:30 p.m.
The Greene County Singers will be featured during the service, with refreshments to follow.
The need for a bigger food pantry has been obvious for some time.
“It’s even cramped for the volunteers,” said the Rev. Julie Poulsen, pastor at the First United Methodist Church and chair of the nondenominational ARC board.
The pantry is now serving between 90 and 100 families a month, some of whom challenge the preconceived notions of poverty.
“You cannot live anymore on just Social Security,” Poulsen said of the elderly women without pensions who rely on the pantry.
No one in need goes hungry, Poulsen said, and the pantry typically sends people home with seven to 10 days of food.
“We have a very generous county,” she said.
But the sheer amount of need should give everyone pause.
More Greene County children (17 percent) are in poverty than the state average (15 percent).
At 22.7 percent, the overall poverty rate in two towns alone (Grand Junction and Churdan) surpasses the poverty levels of Des Moines (19 percent), Sioux City (15 percent) and Fort Dodge (18 percent).
The ARC building committee scouted several other existing buildings before the Clark Plumbing building came available following an auto accident in August on Highway 4 that claimed the life of owner Wes Bunnell.
Committee members — including retired industrial tech teacher Dan Benitz — reported back that the building was “unusually well built,” Poulsen said.
The building also sits on enough land that the ARC could be expanded even more, with long-term plans for a community garden.
The new building’s size will enable the ARC to have food, clothing and furniture under one roof. The board currently rents a storage unit to house used furniture for families in need.
The current food pantry on East Harrison Street will be sold, but because of its small size and poor shape, the sale is unlikely to even pay for renovations to the new building, according to the ARC board.
Once the move is complete, food will still be distributed on Wednesday mornings, but how it’s distributed will be modernized.
Currently, because of the pantry’s size, clients have to be handed a pre-made sack of groceries.
With more space, clients will finally be given the ability to choose from the food available.
“It empowers and gives dignity,” Wolters said.
“And,” Poulsen added, “lessens the waste.”
How to donate
Tax-deductible contributions to a new food pantry should be sent to the Greene County Christian Action Resource Center, Carol Zwicky, Treasurer at 112 E. Harrison St., Jefferson, IA 50129.