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Wherever The Rev. Sarah Gengler goes, it seems likely that a food pantry will follow.

Gengler came to Schuyler from Brookston, Indiana, best known for an apple popcorn festival that takes place every September.

It’s also home to a food pantry that Gengler helped run, and the current pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Schuyler brought that passion for the food pantry all the way from the Hoosier State to the Cornhusker State.

“The pantry has been a passion of mine since I got here,” Gengler said. “I started a food pantry at my former church (in Brookston) and I was in charge of the food pantry when I was in (my) seminary, so I have some experience.”

That experience has been tested over the past several years, as Gengler and the Schuyler Ministerial Association were forced to move the Colfax County Food Pantry from the basement of First Presbyterian to a broom cupboard at Schuyler Middle School. Now, Gengler and the SMA believe they found the perfect place to distribute food to people who sorely need it.

They will unveil a permanent home for the food pantry Thursday at its new location, 1213 Colfax St., in Schuyler. An open house is set to run from 4-7 p.m. at what was formerly a video store building owned by Jerry and Rose Mundil. The Mundils still had ownership of the property after the store closed down and when they were approached by the Ministerial Association for possible space, they figured it might just be an ideal location.

“We volunteered to use our building to keep the materials in,” Jerry said. “Me and Denise Kracl (Colfax County attorney and coroner), we talked quite a bit and it all started with that. Pastor Sarah came to us and Denise mentioned something about a food pantry that was at the middle school that they couldn’t get to all the time. So, we said, ‘We’ll just volunteer to help.’”

The need for space came about thanks to flooding that affected the basement of First Presbyterian three years ago. With a damaged basement and no place to store food, Schuyler Community Schools provided facilities at the middle school. It was a fine gesture on the part of the district, and one that the Ministerial Association appreciated, until recently, when the need for added storage space made a food pantry within school grounds untenable.

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“They lost some of their storage space, so we really needed to move out in order to allow them the space that they needed,” Gengler said. “The pantry (also) wasn’t being utilized the way like it should be by the public. They don’t know where it’s at.”

So, new space was sought out and the old video store proved to be a solid option. After some remodeling to remove all the remnants of the old store, like old videos and shelving, what is left is a bare-bones operation - at least at the moment. The shelves have non-perishable food items, but what’s left will likely fly off the shelves in short order. There is also a lot of medicine leftover from flood relief efforts earlier this year, something that Gengler hopes will be put to good use upon the pantry’s opening.

“We can now distribute what is left to anyone that needs it, whether they have flood damage or not,” Gengler said. “It is now just the food pantry’s stuff.”

The pantry is set up in a way that will provide families with the opportunity to shop for what they need. In prior iterations, people would buy items for others and drop them off at their residence, barely providing an opportunity for choice. Now with the new permanent location, things are changing and Gengler said she hopes that people will take advantage of the new ability to take what they want off the shelves.

“The goal now is for people to come in during set hours and shop for their own food, giving them dignity in what they choose for themselves and the process that goes with it,” Gengler said. “That’s very important, especially for me because we all have our likes and dislikes and I hate to waste food giving someone something that they’re not going to eat. For them to be able to come in and choose their own food - with set limits - it allows them the ability to know that they’re going to like what they’re choosing to eat.”

Some things won’t change with the move to a new location. People are still more than able to drop off non-perishable items at their local church and the Ministerial Association remains the group in charge of the pantry, with Gengler acting as its president. However, for Gengler, aside from having a better knowledge of the pantry’s existence, she is hopeful that people will continue to be helped through the usage of the pantry’s new digs.

“It makes me so happy,” Gengler said. “All I want is to help people and having a new location like this means that we can do that. We just need people to know where we’re at to be able to find us and to know that they’re welcome. We don’t care what their situation is. We just want them to come.”

Zach Roth is a reporter for the Schuyler Sun. Reach him via email at zachary.roth@lee.net.

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Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at zachary.roth@lee.net.

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