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Three days a week, Dan Christian pulls up to the Coralville Community Food Pantry and begins loading his car with boxes, grocery orders that he’ll deliver in Coralville to families in need of food.
Despite his cargo, he doesn’t see himself as someone delivering groceries.
“I just drive the car,” he said. “The people at the food pantry taking the orders, packing the boxes so meticulously, they’re the ones delivering the food. They’re getting everything ready for these families. I’m just driving the car.”
The 67-year-old retired English and religion teacher from Baltimore, Md., landed in Coralville in the spring of 2019, days after turning in his students’ final grades. He decided on the area because he enjoyed Iowa while he was a student at St. Ambrose University in Davenport — where he graduated in 1976 — and because of Iowa City’s designation as a City of Literature.
When he discovered his new apartment was just a few blocks from the food pantry, he knew how he wanted to help his new community.
Christian, a longtime fan of singer and social activist Harry Chapin, had volunteered for years with the Harry Chapin Foundation, a group supporting organizations that help “improve the lives and livelihoods of people by helping them become more self-sufficient.”
“I volunteered with that foundation because of Harry Chapin and his commitment to addressing hunger,” Christian said. “Tom Chapin said about his brother Harry that he was one of those rare people who actually put his life where his mouth was.
“That was the exact feel of the Coralville food pantry when I first started,” Christian said. “They’re putting their lives where their mouths are, they’re walking the walk. They are 200 percent into being of service and talking about the issues of justice.”
MEETING THE NEED
Christian started volunteering with the food pantry in the summer of 2019, working within the pantry itself, helping wherever he was needed. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he stopped working inside the pantry at the same time clients stopped coming in.
But he still wanted to help.
Under the leadership of executive director John Boller, the pantry started a food pantry delivery service at the start of the pandemic. Customers place orders online or over the phone, and their food is delivered to their door.
“Our new home delivery option, which provides 75 deliveries per week on average, has been a critical lifeline for those in our community who cannot afford to leave their homes for reasons related to health, mobility, emotional stress or documentation status,” Boller said. “We rely on a team of wonderful volunteers like Dan to commit to making at least one delivery route each week.”
Each route includes four or five orders, Boller said. Volunteers use their own vehicles and make safe, no-contact deliveries.
“There’s no way there is a Coralville Community Food Pantry without our dedicated volunteers,” Boller said.
Just as valuable is the center’s leadership, Christian said.
He credits Boller and the food bank’s three full-time employees — programs and communications coordinator Paola Jaramillo Guayara, community projects coordinator Hai Huynh and home delivery coordinator Marisa Koontz — with meeting clients’ needs and finding ways to prevent future needs from arising.
“You want to see what leadership looks like, just be a fly on the wall and listen to John and Hai and everyone talk about their day’s work,” Christian said. “What’s so cool about these folks is they’re not just interested in discussing food insecurity, they’re interested in the underlying causes, they’re interested in hunger as well as feeding the hungry.”
Curbside pick-up is still an option for food pantry clients, Christian said, and many people drive to the pantry and place their order, then wait for it to be packed and brought out.
“People come through the drive-through, and we’re asked to ‘shop’ for this person,” he said. “This is a human to human thing — it’s us helping to ‘shop’ for this guest. Human beings are human beings everywhere. No one escapes the struggles of being human. All of this seems to be about acknowledging and raising up human beings.”
What: Coralville Community Food Pantry
Who: Anyone who lives in Coralville or Tiffin
Where: 1002 Fifth St., Coralville
Phone: (319) 337-3663
Hours: 2 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays; 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays; 10 a.m. to noon Thursdays; 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays; or place an order at coralvillefoodpantry.org
First-time registration: The only qualification to receive assistance is to be a Coralville or Tiffin resident. Bring a photo ID or Social Security card and proof of a Coralville or Tiffin address (utility bill, lease agreement, mail postmarked within the last 30 days).
To find other area food pantries: https://www.hacap.org/
WANT TO VOLUNTEER?
Each year, more than 150 people volunteer their time in some way at the Coralville Community Food Pantry. Learn more at coralvillefoodpantry.org/volunteer
WANT TO DONATE?
The Coralville Community Food Pantry and many area food banks regularly accept non-perishable food donations and monetary donations. In fact, many prefer monetary donations that allow them to buy food in bulk for families in need. The Coralville Community Food Pantry is not currently accepting food donations for safety reasons during the pandemic. If you wish to support the food pantry, please make a financial contribution at coralvillefoodpantry.org/give.