Oelwein’s newest food pantry, The Plentiful Pantry, was established based on a demonstrated additional need in town, says Board President Josh Ehn.
The new pantry, which will officially open on Wednesday, Sept. 7, received its first shipment from Northeast Iowa Food Bank about 8:45 a.m. Tuesday. That agency will be donating to restock the pantry every Tuesday as needed, Ehn said.
The pantry is located in back of 26 W. Charles — former State Farm office of agent Tom Fick who retired last year. Hours will be Mondays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesdays 3-7 p.m., and Thursdays, 1-4 p.m.
“As superintendents, we see food insecurity every day when 65-70% of our student population’s free and reduced lunch,” said Ehn, who superintends the Oelwein School District. “People are working and trying, but it’s hard, and inflation has only made it worse. It’s not just ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese and that’s it — they deserve to have like a glass of milk and a hamburger and chicken, like, real food.”
Staffing The Plentiful Pantry will allow a work based learning opportunity for the Oelwein School District, Ehn said.
“We also do the mobile food truck,” said The Plentiful Pantry Board member Beth Fish, who works for MercyOne, which will continue to operate it as a charity under Wheaton Franciscan until the nonprofit paperwork is approved. “The number (of patrons) has jumped from 140 to 240. We run out because we’re so short.”
Some of that increase began occurring early in the 2020 pandemic.
The idea came about when now-Plentiful Pantry Board members Ashley Kunkle Ehn and Mark Levin discussed food insecurity at a meeting of another helping organization. Ashley called food pantry sites in Independence and West Union and learned each site was seeing many Oelwein patrons, Josh Ehn said — two dozen were reportedly going to West Union.
“They’ll be able to go more often and get food when they really need it,” Fish said.
“We’re not going to solve the food insecurity issue, but just trying to help solve the hunger issue and make the community a better place,” Ehn said.
“Some items are provided by USDA,” Ehn said for The Plentiful Pantry. “We purchase shipping to get them here. Other items we purchase through Northeast Iowa Food Bank.”
How much food can you normally purchase for $1, Ehn asked, noting to consider inflation.
“Through NEIFB, we can buy food for 19 cents a pound, so for $1 you can buy more than 5 pounds of food,” he said.
The Plentiful Pantry will also purchase fresh food perishables, Ehn said, such as meat, dairy and fresh produce, that are vital for good health and performance.
Fish said the board has been working for five months, give or take, to line up the building and all the paperwork.
The Plentiful Pantry will allow individuals to shop for their own food at no charge. The same paperwork as was required for the mobile food truck will apply here, Fish said, noting they are sympathetic to emergency situations.
The shopping format is intended to allow patrons a sense of control, Fish said: “They don’t feel I’m just handing them food.”
The Northeast Iowa Charitable Foundation donated to overhead costs to start up and United Way helped purchase freezers, Ehn said.
“We’re preparing ourselves to accept donations be it monetary or food,” he said.
The Plentiful Pantry Board filed for 501c3 nonprofit status with the IRS through Ridihalgh Fuelling Snitker Weber & Co., Certified Public Accountants, of Oelwein.
Until that is approved, donations will be processed through the charitable arm of MercyOne, Wheaton Franciscan, as with the monthly mobile food pantry.
The Wednesday, Aug. 10 monthly mobile food truck distribution from Northeast Iowa Food Bank will still occur as scheduled — from 4-5 p.m. — at the parking lot behind Ace Hardware.
It will be at 26 W. Charles St. starting in September.
Among the final hurdles to opening the building was an apparent shelving shortage. The answer came from across the street at the former Community Plaza whose furniture the Oelwein Chamber and Area Development offered recently free to area organizations.
“Finally we got a bunch of shelving through the old (Community) Plaza building,” Ehn said.
Those wanting to donate food may do so during the Plentiful Pantry food drive and open house, in conjunction with the Rotary Sweet Corn and Karate Chop Feed on Thursday, Aug. 25 at 5 p.m. at Plaza Park. A booth will be set up to drop food donations, Ehn said.
Plentiful Pantry Board members in addition to the Ehns and Fish, are Travis Bushaw, Candace King, Mark Levin, Alanna Levin, Barb Schmitz, Justin Villont and Steffenee Voigt.
Updated Aug. 8, to correct Aug. 10 NEI Food Bank Mobile Food Pantry location will be at Ace Hardware back parking lot until September.