By Anne Marie Amacher
DAVENPORT — Seven years ago, Sacred Heart Food Pantry lost its downtown site lease. At about the same time, Friendly Thrift Center also lost is lease. Meanwhile, St. John United Methodist Church was exploring the option of offering a food pantry and thrift store in a building it had just purchased. The timing couldn’t have been better, said Deacon Bob McCoy, outgoing coordinator of the food pantry located in St. John’s building called “The Center.”
Bishop Martin Amos toured the food pantry Feb. 26 as Deacon McCoy turned over his duties to Deacon Dan Huber.
Bill Porter, chairman of the board for The Center in Davenport, said part of the project for the building was a skate center for youths and young adults. But St. John’s wanted to expand its service to helping others, too. Porter said the building wasn’t fully ready for new occupants, but walls were put up and pantry organizers were invited to move in during the summer of 2007. Then the thrift shop lost its lease. “We took them in, too. It was God working with all of us,” Porter said.
“This is a cooperative, ecumenical effort,” Deacon McCoy said. Costs for the food pantry’s space, utilities and internet access are covered by St. John’s. Volunteers primarily come from six or seven different churches in the city. The pantry receives financial support from many churches and supporters and covers a large portion of Davenport – from Eighth Street to Interstate 80 and from Harrison Street to the Bettendorf border.
Keith Perry, food pantry manager, explained how the pantry works to Bishop Amos. They were joined by the Rev. Anne Lippincott, senior pastor of St. John’s.
“This is run all by volunteers,” Perry said. Volunteers package and distribute food and pick up donations from grocery stores and other places. Prepackaging, based on family size, has proven to be an effective method of serving customers. “It’s faster at the window and there are no complaints that this person got this and I didn’t,” Perry said.
A standard pre-pack flat includes three vegetables, two fruits, canned items, pasta, three soups and tomato sauce. The bag pre-packs include toilet paper, spaghetti or other pasta, macaroni and cheese, noodles and rice.
Perry said a family of three to five people receives one flat and one bag. A family of six or more receives two flats and one bag. A family of one or two receives one bag and a flat with fewer items. Depending on what’s in stock, patrons can get peanut butter and jelly, beef stew, sugar, flour and more. Freezers in the pantry make it possible to offer such items as mini waffles and meat. Certificates to Golick’s meat market also are available.
“The pre-package method is clever,” Bishop Amos said.
The group then looked at the pantry’s computer system. “We designed it,” Perry said. The computer records addresses and verifies when patrons last visited the pantry. People living within the pantry’s territory may receive groceries once a month. Volunteers refer out-of-territory patrons to the appropriate pantry. If that site will not be open for a few days, the patron will receive an emergency package. “We’d love to give to everyone, but we can’t,” Perry said. “If we say no, we tell them why.”
“I like this system,” the bishop said.
Bishop Amos said he was surprised by the percentages of people served. One-time guests represented 32.4 percent of the households in 2013. Perry said some were people passing through the community. Others just couldn’t quite make their money stretch enough for one month. The next highest percentage of households, 28.4 percent, visited the center two to four times that year. Households that visited five to seven times a year were 11.5 percent; eight or more visits were 8.6 percent, out of zone visits were 17.1 percent, and other was 2 percent. Pantry usage overall was up 15 percent in 2013, Perry said.
Friendly Thrift Center helps support the pantry by providing it with grants. Various food distributors give discounts of 10 to 80 percent for the pantry’s food purchases, Perry said. River Bend Foodbank, newly relocated to Davenport, and grocery stores provide a good portion of food because donations don’t cover all the needs.
“We love to work together,” Perry said referring to the volunteers and those who support the ministry.