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Keeping the cupboard stocked

FD schools donate to food pantry

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Joni Ham-Olson, director of The Lord’s Cupboard, directs Carmen Banwart, principal of Butler Elementary, as school staff helps bring in leftover foods to help the local pantry feeling a pinch during the pandemic.

Cleanliness may be next to godliness during a public health emergency, but new donations to The Lord’s Cupboard might help ensure that a full belly is high on the list, too.

And while the local economy is feeling the effects of the coronavirus, with schools and many critical businesses temporarily closed, director Joni Ham-Olson said their pantry, behind First United Methodist Church at Second Avenue North and North 10th Street, has even greater need for donations.

“We’re starting to feel a little bit of a pinch,” she said, as the pantry bags up what it has to make it go far enough for all families in need. “We’re seeing a lot of people, more than we normally do.”

Many new families with children coming in have never used their food pantry before, she said. Some who haven’t utilized it in years are forced to come back in after being one of many in Iowa laid off during the crisis.

Gov. Kim Reynolds called the number of Iowa unemployment claims filed over the last week “staggering” in a recent press conference.

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Ryan Flaherty, Duncombe Elementary principal, brings in leftover pantry items from the school’s shelves to The Lord’s Cupboard.

Amidst concerns about COVID-19, families are now just coming into the upstairs area to receive pre-bagged items, with variation depending on family size.

As Ham-Olson keeps up with demand by shopping at grocery stores to shore up their supplies, the two full car loads delivered from Duncombe and Butler Elementary Tuesday will go quite a ways to hit the spot of local hunger.

With food pantry shelves already in most schools and no children coming in to use them, local school leaders decided to put their shelves to some use, donating many boxes of canned items, dry goods and practical necessities like laundry detergent and toiletries to the pantry.

“To have it sit there seems like a tragedy,” said Ryan Flaherty, principal at Duncombe Elementary. “We would send home care packages over long breaks, but we didn’t know this break was coming, so we didn’t get anything out to the kids.”

Those families, which he said would start feeling the pinch soon, can now come to The Lord’s Cupboard. Even before the governor closed schools for a month, he said use of their system was starting to increase.

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Elementary schools in Fort Dodge gathered together all the things they usually keep on hand for families in need to donate while schools are closed.

The pantry at that school is supported by the Fort Dodge Study Club. Ham-Olson said that several schools have stepped up over the last few days to ensure families in need are taken care of at their pantry.

“We appreciate what the pantry is doing to feed kids during the break,” Flaherty said.

Donations like these ones help bring a necessary mission to the forefront at times when it’s easy to push charity to the back burner, she said. The director encourages families wishing to donate food to not bring expired cans from their shelves, as they cannot give those away. Supplies of essentials like toilet paper have grown slim.

Qualifying guidelines and regulations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that food pantries like The Lord’s Cupboard follow have been relaxed during the coronavirus pandemic to encourage help for those in need. Clients can usually come in for emergency food assistance up to five times per calendar year.

Hours at the pantry are:

• Tuesday, 9:30-11:30 a.m. and 4-6 p.m.

• Thursday, 9:30-11:30 a.m.

• Friday, 1-3 p.m.

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