116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
SOLON - About 12 miles separate Solon from Iowa City, while about 10 miles divide Solon and North Liberty. But the distance hasn't kept dozens of low-income families in Solon from commuting to food pantries in those communities.
That's why a group of Solon advocates and churches are partnering with the Johnson County Crisis Center to open a food pantry in the heart of their community.
“It's going to be the Solon Community Pantry, and it will be the Crisis Center's first partner pantry,” said Becci Reedus, executive director of the Iowa City-based center. “It will really put this service of a food pantry right in the heart of the community it is serving.”
The Crisis Center, which is stretching its resources more every year, served 23 Solon families in its 2011 budget year. The North Liberty Community Pantry served 11 families from Solon last year - a total of 32 people who made 98 visits to the pantry.
Sandy Hanson, a member of the Solon Senior Advocates, said she began dreaming of a local food pantry after learning that Lisbon had one. She got the ball rolling last year by contacting three area churches - St. Mary's Catholic Church, Solon United Methodist Church and Our Lord's Church.
The goal is to open some version of a Solon pantry - even if it's limited and incomplete - within the next few months, but Hanson said the group is still searching for a storage and distribution site.
“The community is all invested in us, but we can't seem to find a place,” she said.
Leaders at the Methodist church have agreed to open up their basement for storage, but they want another site used for distribution. Hanson said she would prefer to use one building for both storage and distribution.
Organizers can't afford to buy or rent space, so it has to be donated. But once a location is found, Hanson said, the group can start doling out food right away.
“If someone came to us next week and provided a distribution center, we could get started without freezers and refrigerators and work with non-perishables,” she said.
The Johnson County Crisis Center is training Solon volunteers on how to run a food pantry, and center officials are helping the new group decide what hours to be open. Preliminary discussions have the pantry open twice a week, but Hanson said they're flexible.
“There are a lot of people who are working on this and who would start tomorrow if we had a place to do it,” she said.
The group organizing the new pantry determined a need through numbers provided by the Iowa City and North Liberty food pantries and the Solon school district's free and reduced-price lunch list.
Hanson said she expects even more people would take advantage of a Solon food bank - those who haven't been able to find transportation, for example, or who don't have children in school.
“If we can serve 20 families or 50 families, we have done our job,” she said.
Kelly Crossley, the Solon schools' nutrition program director, said there might be more need for a local food pantry than some people think. The number of families applying for their children to receive free or reduced-price meals at school has risen to 8.9 percent from 7 percent in October, she said.
“So there is definitely a need,” Crossley said.
A Solon food pantry would ease some of the pressure on the food pantries in Iowa City and North Liberty. The Johnson County Crisis Center saw a 22 percent increase in its food pantry requests last year over 2010.
The North Liberty pantry served 477 families made up of 1,571 individuals last year, and officials are organizing an expansion because “space is just too small for the number of people we are serving,” Executive Director Tina DuBois said.
The Rev. Carol Kress, lead minister for Solon United Methodist Church, said the church hasn't ruled out the option of providing both distribution and storage space for a pantry.
“We haven't gotten into that discussion,” she said.
Even though an official site hasn't been identified, Kress said, the group is taking food and monetary donations.
“We are very encouraged by the community support, and we hope this is viable,” she said. “There is a lot of compassion in our town.”