Volunteers at a local food pantry are hoping the community will come together to help with future expansion.
The First Lutheran Church Food Pantry committee (also called the social concerns committee) recently sent a letter to all area churches inviting them to participate in a meeting, March 13, at 4 p.m. in the First Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall. The subject of the meeting is to expand the current pantry into a Decorah Community Pantry, which would be run by area churches.
“We also invite anyone from the public to this meeting … anyone who is interested in helping with the future of the pantry,” said Committee member Marlene Sorenson.

Faith-based pantry
Unlike income-based food pantries, which require a certain income limit for persons to use its services, the pantry at First Lutheran is faith-based.
“This means no one is ever turned away and we don’t require verification of income,” said Sorenson.
“We serve between seven and nine counties on a regular basis, averaging about 600 families a month,” added Committee member Dave Pahlas.
Pahlas said pantry users can come once a week and pick out their food.
“Other pantries might pick the food for them. Our patrons can leave with up to three bags of groceries,” he said.

A great service
The pantry was started in a small closet in the basement of First Lutheran 20 years ago. Since then, it has more than doubled in size, but more room is needed, according to organizers.
Sorenson said the pantry has developed many partnerships over the years, which have allowed it to flourish.
In addition to ordering from the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, they regularly get food donations from Wal-Mart, Kwik Star, Pizza Hut and Sodexo at Luther College.
Twice a week, Sodexo fast-freezes food that has been prepared, but not put out for students, and delivers it to the pantry. For the past two years, leftover student balances have been used to purchase bulk items, such as rice and beans from Sodexo.
The food pantry also partners with the Farmers’ Market, offering several thousands of dollars of Farmers’ Market coupons to its patrons each summer and collecting leftover food during the Wednesday and Saturday markets.
Pahlas said although food donations are always welcome, cash donations really help out as well.
“Through the Food Bank, for every $1 donated, we can purchase $10 worth of food,” he said.

Growing needs
Sorenson said her committee hopes to engage the help of area churches and have each one designate a Board member for the new Decorah Community pantry.
The Pantry also needs a new, larger location, with ample parking and handicapped accessibility.
“We are hoping to find a building we could afford to rent that would give us more space. By making this known, there may be someone out there who has such a building or even wants to be a benefactor to help us with the space issue,” said Sorenson.
She said although there are several Water St. buildings available, these present challenges with regard to both parking and privacy.
She said a pantry as busy as the one at First Lutheran also needs a waiting room.

Everyone welcome
Sorenson said the committee hopes that by hosting the public meeting and inviting area churches, it will make a big difference in both donations and the volunteer pool.
“We need some help. We’re really outgrowing this space,” said Sorenson.
Anyone with questions about or ideas for the future of the pantry is encouraged to come to the meeting or call Sorenson at 563-380-7055.