116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Five days after the Aug. 10 derecho hit the Cedar Rapids area, the Marion Chamber of Commerce staff opened the doors to a temporary food pantry in City Square Plaza. It was a far cry from a normal day at work, but the overall task was familiar: to serve the community.
'Is running a food pantry a typical duty of the chamber of commerce? Probably not, but making your community better is,” said Brooke Prouty, Uptown Marion Main Street director.
Recovery efforts started earlier in the week, before the pantry opened. Shortly after the storm, chamber staff began canvassing neighborhoods in Marion to assess the damage. They also set up a hotline for people to call with requests for assistance or to offer volunteer help. Answering those calls, Jill Ackerman, president of the Marion Chamber of Commerce, realized that food was the most pressing need in the community.
'Calls started pouring in for food assistance,” Ackerman said. The team used their connections to quickly get a temporary food pantry up and running. They partnered with the two existing food pantries in town, the Churches of Marion and the 29th Street Mission, who offered their inventories and logistical assistance. Meanwhile, Marion Mayor Nick AbouAssaly secured empty storefronts in the plaza so there'd be a large, centrally located space to accept and organize donations.
Shortly after putting a request for supplies on social media, a huge quantity of shelf-stable food, baby supplies, tarps, batteries and more started arriving from near and far.
'We basically had a hardware store and a baby store at the plaza,” Ackerman said.
A former Marion resident who now lives in Georgia, Shane Bonebrake, filled a U-Haul truck with supplies and drove all the way to Marion to donate them to Iowans in need. Other donations came from surrounding communities like Adel, Charles City and Ottumwa. Donations also arrived from organizations like HACAP and the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation.
'It would be impossible to name all of the people who donated,” Ackerman said.
A large number of donations were dropped off by Marion and Cedar Rapids residents, many of whom were dealing with their own damage and spoiled food.
The chamber staff running the pantry wasn't spared either. Prouty, in particular, had extensive damage to her Cedar Rapids home, which had been surrounded by old-growth trees. 'Two trees hit my house, and I had damage to my roof,” she said. After a day at work, she'd arrive home to a mattress that was still damp from the leak in her ceiling.
Like so many others, Prouty volunteered to help those who were more in need. At the pop-up food pantry, lots of volunteers were needed to sort the donations and hand them out. More than 1,000 volunteer hours were logged in the first two weeks the pantry was open. Much like the request for donations, all it took was a Facebook post for volunteers to show up.
'We had a solid stream of people every day, many of whom were teachers who knew some of the families in need,” Ackerman said.
The Marion Chamber partnered with Marion Cares to determine where food deliveries were most needed, particularly for people who didn't have transportation to get to Uptown Marion. Around the same time, World Central Kitchen started serving hot meals in a parking lot near the pop-up pantry, and fresh food was added to many of the neighborhood deliveries.
'People's faces would light up when we could offer them hot food,” Ackerman said.
The impact of the whole operation was enormous. The Churches of Marion food pantry typically serves about 100 families per week. In the first 15 days after the temporary food pantry opened, nearly 1,600 families were served.
'We could see we were making an immediate impact. And people were so gracious,” Ackerman said.
On Sept. 12, the temporary food pantry closed and the remaining donations were taken to the Churches of Marion food pantry at 802 12th St. in Marion.
Tami Schlamp, director of member services at the Marion Chamber of Commerce, said she was surprised by the amount of need in the community.
'It was very eye-opening,” she said. While she was canvassing neighborhoods, Schlamp met a woman who had a tree fall on her home. Later, the woman came to the food pantry and was able to get crucial supplies and food. Seeing her again, 'made me a bit teary-eyed. I know the economic impact of losing your food can trickle down into other parts of your life,” she said.
That's why the chamber staff felt it was important to put their normal business on hold and help the community recover. Schlamp and Ackerman, both Marion natives and residents, said there's something unique about the community that helped the town band together after the disaster.
'There's this sense of wanting to help your neighbors - it's part of that small-town feel we all love about Marion,” Schlamp said.
Quotes on banding together:
'What I try to tell young people is that if you come together with a mission, and its grounded with love and a sense of community, you can make the impossible possible.” - John Lewis
'None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” - Mother Teresa
'Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is a success.” - Henry Ford
Books on banding together:
'Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day” by Jay Shetty
'Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World” by Vivek H Murthy M.D.
'Everyday Resilience: A Practical Guide to Build Inner Strength and Weather Life's Challenges” by Gail Gazelle M.D.