Optimist Club makes holidays cheery for families

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Editor’s note: This story is the sixth and final in a series highlighting how local business, organizations, churches and schools give back this holiday season.


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IOWA CITY — Several members of the North Liberty Optimist Club met in the Aldi parking lot last week with a plan.

Quarters in hand, the small group grabbed several grocery carts to transport nearly $3,000 worth of jars of peanut butter, boxes of cereal and cartons of crackers from the grocery store to their vans, truck and SUV.

“There’s really no good way to get large quantities of food out of this place,” John Fisher says with a grin during one of several trips.

But they did. Cases of canned fruit, granola bars, pancake mix, syrup and jelly filled the automobiles from floor to ceiling.

The day was only half over, though. After packing their purchases, the group had to transport the food to Penn Elementary School in North Liberty, to be divided among needy families at North Liberty’s three Iowa City school district elementary schools — Garner, Penn and Van Allen — for winter break.

“This is my favorite project,” Sandra Gay says. “Of all the projects we do, this is my favorite.”

For more than 10 years, the North Liberty Optimist Club has teamed up with the schools’ Family Resource Center to provide holiday food boxes for families during the two-week break.

Working with the resource center, club members purchase large quantities of family-friendly food, including jarred spaghetti sauce, pudding, bread and canned soup. The food is then distributed by resource center staff members to families that qualify.

“There’s enough stress at the holidays,” Mary Mitchell says. “It has to help if you don’t have to worry about having food for your kids.”

“We’re told the family’s faces just light up because they know they’ll have food to get them through the break,” Margaret Rios, the club’s secretary, adds.

The number of families the project will help this year could be as high as 80 — a huge difference from the project’s first year, which provided food for about 25 families.

But while the need has grown, so has the North Liberty Optimist Club’s commitment.

“Our club is about helping the youth of North Liberty,” President Darlene Smith says. “We feel this is one of the many ways that we can do this. It is a great feeling being a part of making the lives of the unfortunate better.”


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