For the fourth year, the Coralville Community Food Pantry is hosting a free meal for Coralville residents.
Last year, the pantry held three meals over the course of winter and summer at the Coralville Public Library and the Coralville Rec Center. About 450 people showed up.
The first meal this year will be held at the Coralville Recreation Center, 1506 Eighth St., from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Feb. 9.
The goal is to bring residents together to talk and make new friends while enjoying nutritious food, said John Boller, executive director at the Coralville Community Food Pantry.
Q: How did the Free Community Meal program start?
A: This came out of the Johnson County Hunger Task Force, which was a coalition of different nonprofit leaders, city officials and county officials looking at different gaps that exist or different types of programming to make sure there is access to healthy food. There weren’t too many programs targeted toward getting good food in people’s hands and prepared meal programs that featured foods that were wholesome and locally sourced. We wanted to showcase some of this awesome fresh produce starting to flow into local pantries. It kind of grew into something like a community-building effort, getting to know one another and meeting the need for food.
Q: What might be different this February?
A: This time of year, it’s going to be difficult ... to highlight as much fresh local produce. Our goal here to is to create a fun, interesting dish that people might not always gravitate toward. We’re trying to showcase recipes people can replicate at home but might incorporate an ingredient they might not typically use. We’ll have soups and salads with high-quality greens and dressings and homemade baked goods as well. We will have a ham, potato and leek soup and a Tuscan ribollita soup with white beans, Swiss chard and butternut squash.
Q: That takes care of the nutritious free food. Do you notice that the meal is bringing the community together?
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A: It’s really cool to see diverse groups come together and participate in the cooking of the food and then eating. Last summer ... we saw a lot of people we do see at the pantry but also a lot of others who might not rely on social services. That’s our goal — to put everyone in the same space together. We’re looking at getting two people from different socioeconomic backgrounds together. This meal is designed to provide nourishment for people who are facing poverty. We also want it to be a tool to ... address the stigma for folks who rely on social services to get basic needs.
Q: How many people are you expecting?
A: We’re aiming to serve 300, but we’ll see what happens. The entire Coralville community is invited. We’ll be doing a lot of food prep the night before at the Coralville United Methodist Church (806 13th Ave.) so anyone can come help do that.
Q: Are there other activities besides the meal?
A: There are a lot of fun activities for kids and families. The rec center is getting a bounce house for kids and having a stuffed animal walk, like a cake walk and musical chairs mash-up and the prize is a stuffed animal. They’ll also have giant Jenga. It’s fun for kids of all ages.
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