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A greater shelf life

NORTH LIBERTY– Sometimes, families need a little help.
Other times, that little bit of help may be all that gets them through.
Since 1985, the North Liberty Community Food and Clothing Pantry has served as a bridge to carry people from struggles to sustenance, possibly the difference between going hungry and the ability to keep going. It began, literally, in a closet at the North Liberty United Methodist Church, as a response to requests from about 15 to 20 families in need of food and clothing.
In 2010, the pantry had between 400-500 visits per month, distributed 136,000 pounds of food and gave away over 7,000 pieces of clothing to area families.
The service has long since outgrown its closet; it has also outgrown its current space in an auxiliary building on the church’s campus, where it moved in 2004.
The pantry is now looking back to the community it has served for over 26 years for help in raising funds to expand to a new facility.
The current pantry space is inadequate in so many ways, said Pantry Director Tina DuBois.
“Imagine something has happened in your life, and you need to use the pantry,” DuBois told a small audience at an April informational meeting held at Ms. Susan’s in North Liberty. “Now imagine that you come to the pantry, and there is a long line of people waiting outside, and you are among them. This line waits outside the pantry in all seasons, in the cold, heat, rain and snow.” DuBois continued through the scenario, asking people to imagine having to discuss their personal situations with a pantry volunteer standing just inches away from the next patron in line, within earshot of everyone there.
The overcrowding is more than simply uncomfortable; its 560 sq. ft. of space has become functionally impractical.
“Having a bathroom in the pantry would be a plus for everyone,” said DuBois. The current pantry facility has no… facilities.
Therefore, the pantry seeks to raise $250,000 for the building project in order to break ground next April debt-free. The plan is to erect a new building on the church grounds, 2,376 finished sq. ft. that will contain a reception area and an office where clients can talk with volunteers in private; ample refrigerator space, a washer/dryer room to clean donated clothing, a bathroom and a distribution area with shelved food, as well as a separate storage area for food and clothing donations.
“With a separate storage area, there will no longer be a perception of feast or famine,” said DuBois. Inventory can be processed and distributed more efficiently, and the pantry would be able to buy in bulk in order to get more food at a smaller cost.
As North Liberty’s population has grown by 149 percent in 10 years, the pantry’s use has increased by more than 2,000 percent, going from about 15 to 20 visits per month to averaging nearly 500. Still, other than DuBois’s 25 hour/week position, there are no paid staff. All of the work is done by volunteers, noted pantry board member Charlotte Young.
“Kudos to the pioneers who started this pantry, and to the volunteers who have made it so successful that we need a new building,” Young said. It is to their credit that the pantry has grown, while maintaining an “environment of acceptance and warmth.”
It is the exceptional volunteers– currently 110 of them– that make the difference, DuBois said.
“It takes very special, loving people to reach out and help others,” DuBois said, reading from comments written by pantry clients.
Also well-received is the pantry’s practice of allowing families to “shop the shelves,” rather than just handing each client a pre-packed bag of goods he or she might– or might not– use, as most food pantries do. In addition, the North Liberty Community Food and Clothing Pantry has offered classes to clients that teach ways to prepare nutritional food, show how to use pantry goods to create balanced meals and even supply them with crock pots or cooking utensils, necessities that most take for granted but others sometimes go without.
Annually, the pantry distributes coats, socks and underwear to children just before school starts. DuBois shared the story of one little girl who cried when given new socks and underwear, because she had only a single pair to her name and her grandmother had been washing them by hand each day.
“This is your opportunity to provide financial support to help neighbors who need a hand up,” DuBois implored. The pantry’s mission is to engage the community in feeding and clothing its neighbors.
And due to unforeseen circumstances, any one of us could find ourselves in need tomorrow.
“The pantry exists to help people just like us,” she said.
Tax-deductible donations can be made at the pantry or at the First United Methodist Church, 85 N. Jones Blvd. Pledges will be collected through April, 2012. The capital campaign committee is also planning a brick patio at the new building’s entrance, for which personalized bricks can be purchased and engraved with three lines of writing. There are also opportunities to host a fundraising house party. Contact DuBois for more information at 626-2711, visit the website at www.nlmethodist.org/pantry, find it on Facebook at www.facebook.com/northlibertycommunitpantry, or email nlpantry@gmail.com.