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Under construction

Project to move Lord’s Cupboard upstairs has begun; food pantry has seen uptick in clients during pandemic

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
A work truck from Kolacia Construction is parked next to the First United Methodist Church office on Wednesday. The firm is working on a remodeling project for the Lord’s Cupboard. The remodel will move the food pantry from the basement to street level.

A project that will allow Webster County’s largest food pantry to better serve its clients is underway.

The Lord’s Cupboard is being moved upstairs to street level from the basement of the First United Methodist Church office. Once the transition is complete, clients with mobility issues will have easier access to services.

Kolacia Construction, of Fort Dodge, had workers at the office on Wednesday. That firm is the general contractor for the project.

The workers were on the inside of the building where they will be remodeling the space to make it ADA accessible. Before Kolacia began their work, Site Services, of Algona, was hired for asbestos removal.

Included in the remodel will be a new handicap accessible entrance, handicap accessible restrooms and electrical work. A new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system will also be installed. The estimated cost of the project is between $250,000 and $300,000.

-Messenger file photo
Joni Ham-Olson, director of the Lord’s Cupboard, poses next to some of the food at the cupboard in December 2019. Olson is looking forward to having the food pantry on street level.

Joni Ham-Olson, director of the Lord’s Cupboard, said the location of the cupboard has been the biggest deterrent to helping people who need it.

“The most important thing is we will be on street level,” she said. “They (Kolacia) have started on an ADA compliant ramp entrance. It will be handicap accessible. Inside, all the doorways and everything is ADA compliant. We will have a handicap accessible restroom — no stairs.

“That’s the main reason that we aren’t able to serve some people in Webster County. We try our best if someone is not able to come downstairs. We can certainly bring something up to them. We do that on about a daily basis, but it’s harder to serve our clients.”

And Ham-Olson said within the past year, the cupboard has had no shortage of clients. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected families and their means to eat well, she said.

“There hasn’t been a month since we started this in March where we haven’t had dozens of new clients,” Ham-Olson said.

In September, the Lord’s Cupboard sent food out to 1,076 people.

“September was our largest month,” Ham-Olson said. “In September we saw 61 new households that had never been to the cupboard before. COVID-19 has been an ongoing thing. We were busy to begin with, but with people being laid off from their jobs and kids being home from school, we have definitely been affected by it.”

The virus has forced the cupboard to change its methods for getting clients their groceries.

Prior to the pandemic, clients could fill out a list and essentially shop for the items they wanted.

Now the grocery items are prebagged for each client.

“We just went through the grocery list and picked out the items that were the most popular with our clients and that’s what we prebag according to family size,” Ham-Olson said. “We still have the basics. They are getting fresh produce when we have it available. Eggs, butter, milk, cheese, bread – the perishable items. And also canned fruits and vegetables, soups..”

Prior to the pandemic, Ham-Olson said about 20 households would be seen in a two-hour shift.

“Now by prebagging the groceries and having people come in one at a time, we can see 40 people or more,” she said.

Forty-nine is highest number of households served in the two-hour time frame.

The cupboard typically gets its food from the Iowa Food Bank. But Ham-Olson said they have been impacted also.

“They did not have the same amount of food donated, so it was harder for us to get items we needed,” she said. “We ended up buying more locally, which costs more.”

The Lord’s Cupboard continues to accept donations toward its remodeling project and food purchases.

“It’s not just the construction, but we are needing more refrigerator freezers, coolers, tables, shelving, chairs and carts,” Ham-Olson said. “All the furniture and fixtures. Most of the shelving currently in use is built-in, so it’s not reusable. We will be having to purchase all new there.”

Ham-Olson said First United Methodist Church has been very supportive of the Lord’s Cupboard.

“They were very receptive to the idea (moving upstairs),” Ham-Olson said. “Essentially, it’s a covenant from the church. It’s a gift to us. They provide us with janitorial services, they provide us with overhead, electricity, secretarial services. Quite a substantial gift. We have received some awesome gifts from a lot of the churches in Webster County. I don’t want to discount any church in the county.”

The anticipated completion date for the remodel is Feb. 1. Construction is not interfering with the operations of the Lord’s Cupboard.

To donate, visit the Lord’s Cupboard Facebook page or Amazon. Both websites have links to donate directly to the Lord’s Cupboard. People can also drop off donations at the Faith United Methodist Church office, which is open Monday through Friday.

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