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Pantry closes, reopens

School distribution modified

SOLON– Concerns over volunteers prompted a one-day closure of the Solon Community Food Pantry.
But things are back on track and the pantry is continuing to partner with the Solon Community School District (SCSD) to provide food in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Pantry organizer Sandy Hanson said a concern for needed volunteers prompted the decision, but the pantry quickly regrouped after a showing of community support.
“It didn’t last more than a day, not even a full day,” Hanson reported.
The pantry operates out of the basement of the Solon United Methodist Church and distributes food to area families from 2-6 p.m. on Mondays. It added a second distribution day from 4:30-6:30 p.m. on Thursdays at the high school to serve Solon school families.
According to SCSD Nutrition Director Becky West, food is being handed out Thursdays at the high school’s back parking lot next to the football stadium. Solon families with school age children will drive through to keep social distancing, West noted.
Pantry volunteers will bag the donations at the church and they will be transported to the high school, Hanson said. Most pantries have transitioned to bagging and parking lot pick up, she said.
Solon’s pantry wasn’t the only area food resource to have difficulty the week after spring break.
Table to Table of Iowa City, a primary supplier to the Solon pantry, announced an immediate emergency need for volunteers and monetary donations.
The non-profit, which repurposes food products from retail donors to local food banks, needed to replace unavailable college students and older drivers, Hanson said.
Hanson called Table to Table to report the pending closing of the pantry, but representatives indicated they were pushing through and encouraged Hanson to stay the course, but to do so remotely from home.
“They said, ‘We want to keep giving you food,’” she reported.
The North Liberty Food and Clothing Pantry agreed to accept Solon’s clients if the pantry had to close, and would deliver to the ill and those over 60, Hanson said.
But local volunteers didn’t feel clients would drive over to North Liberty, she said, and that was part of the impetus to keep open.
Hanson was also concerned about school families impacted by the closing of numerous businesses.
Jill Weetman put out the word for volunteers, Hanson said, and soon the pantry had a list of 10 people to assist with the extra dispensing.
One of the pantry’s core volunteers will be present on Thursdays to help steer the new recruits in the right direction, she observed.
“Monday it’ll be our volunteers again, and they will be on their own, but I think they can handle it,” she said. “Everyone seems to be okay with me staying home.”
Pantries are pulling back from accepting food donations on-site, however, the Solon pantry is still getting donations through bins at local churches, she said.
The pantry has been purchasing food through the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program (HACAP) and from Sam’s Main Street Market, in addition to Table to Table donations.
The pantry has been taking in monetary donations for both regular client and school needs, Hanson said. Contributions can be mailed to the pantry at P.O. Box 99, Solon, IA 52333.
Efforts were bolstered by a $1,000 check from a Solon business, she reported.
In addition, Brent Wears donated $250 in gift certificates to local restaurants, she said, and Frida Kahlo Mexican Restaurant, Salt Fork Kitchen and Big Grove Brewery individually contributed certificates.
The pantry and the school district were thrown together after Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds recommended all public K-12 school systems to close through April 12.
Hanson said she was contacted early on by Solon parent Kayla Frasier, who was seeking ways to help during the closure.
Soon Hanson was meeting with nutrition director West and representatives of the Methodist Church, who were supportive of taking on the partnership.
West said the district serves around 2,000 breakfasts and an average of 18,500 lunches a month. Lunch consists of a main entree, grain, fruit, two different vegetables, milk and twice a week a dessert. A full salad bar and a fresh fruit bowl are available along with lunch at the high school and middle school, she added.
“With having spring break right before this all happened, our fresh produce supply was down,” West said. “We did have some left that was taken to the pantry and distributed out to families along with yogurt and milk that we provided.”
During the closure, packaged items such as chips, crackers, cereals will arrive at the best-if-used-by date, she added.
“We will be sending some of these items home with the families on Thursdays for snack items for the kids during the days,” she said via email. “In moving forward on Thursdays, we will be providing a hot meal and a dessert to the families along with the food pantry items.”
Families who cannot make the Thursday distribution are encouraged to contact West at bwest@solon.k12.ia.us.
“Our response from our community to help has been tremendous, but we will continue to need help during this time to keep the food pantry stocked and help the school with making a hot meal and snacks for the families,” she said. “We are accepting monetary donations at each site to help cover expenses.”
Seventy-eight families in the Solon district qualify for free and reduced lunches, West said.
The Solon Community Food Pantry regularly serves 20-30 people, Hanson noted.
Some people come every week, some every other week, she added.
“Last week we only had 11,” she noted.
She tried to contact as many as possible to notify them of the change to drive-up service, and expects the numbers to inch back up in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, since the schools don’t qualify for federal funding for food during the closure, Hanson said the Solon pantry is happy to help.
“We’ll provide the food and they’ll provide the manpower,” she said.

Solon Community Food Pantry
Monday Distribution – Solon Methodist Church
• Hours 2 to 6 p.m.
• Limited food donations during crisis
• Accepting monetary donations
• Drive-up food distribution

Solon School Families Distribution
• When– Thursday, April 2
• Where– Solon High School
• Hours– 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
• Drive-up food distribution