The Colfax County Food Pantry opened its doors Thursday for an open house at its new location, 1213 Colfax St. in Schuyler.
Members of the community had the opportunity to view the new digs, which was formerly M&R Video, owned by Jerry and Rose Mundil.
The Rev. Sarah Gengler runs the pantry on behalf of the Schuyler Ministerial Association and has a deep-rooted passion for working in food pantries.
“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 Ministerial Association were forced to move the pantry from the basement of First Presbyterian Church - where Gengler is the pastor - to a broom cupboard at Schuyler Middle School. Schuyler Community Schools was more than willing to provide space at the middle school; however, when a need for added storage space came up within the district, the pantry's location in the cupboard became untenable.
“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.”
Thus, they sought out help from people in the community, which led them to the Mundils, who still had ownership of the property which now hosts the pantry. After some discussion, they figured it would be an ideal location as a food distribution point.
“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.’”
Now, Gengler and SMA officials believe they found the perfect place to distribute food to people who sorely need it. 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 for 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 said she 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.”
Among those helping with the operation is Susana Oliva, working for the Community and Family Partnership as a community response coach and navigator in Colfax County. Her main role is to assist many of the Spanish-speaking members of the community with usage of the food pantry, although she is more than willing to help anyone, regardless of the language that they speak.
“Doing a partnership with this pantry is a great thing,” Oliva said. “We have the mobile food pantry, but having more of a stable home is great.”
During the open house, Oliva and Gengler helped people find the food that they wanted, whether it was tortilla chips, canned meat and vegetables, cereal and even some cake mix.
“When they come in, their reaction is ‘Whoa, we have this!’” Oliva said. “I think their reaction was more of, we have medications, paper towels, diapers, cleaning supplies (and) things like that, that they wouldn’t normally find at a normal food pantry. That’s been great to see.”
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. But, 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 home.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.