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City approves cold cash for community pantry

NORTH LIBERTY– When the North Liberty Community Food and Clothing Pantry came asking for donations from the City of North Liberty, director Tina DuBois didn’t expect to receive the big chill.
But she’ll happily accept it.
The North Liberty City Council voted unanimously last Tuesday, June 26, to donate $15,000 toward the purchase of a walk-in freezer for the pantry’s new building.
Since April 2011, DuBois and pantry volunteers have been conducting a capital campaign to raise $250,000 for the purpose of constructing a 2,376 sq. ft. building to replace its current facility. The new building will contain a reception area, office space to meet with clients, refrigerated storage, a utility room with a washer/dryer to launder donated clothing, and ample distribution and storage space for food. Most importantly, DuBois noted, there will be restrooms. All are amenities the pantry’s current 560 sq. ft. space lacks.
Because the pantry is located on the site of the North Liberty First United Methodist Church, it is an outreach ministry of the church and the property is owned by the Methodist Church’s district, the city must be careful to maintain the distinction between church and state.
The City of North Liberty has contributed $47,000 to the pantry’s operation since 2008, and continues to make an annual contribution to its operating expenses: most recently, committing $11,000 for fiscal year 2011 and $12,000 for 2012. However, making a donation to its building fund is stickier, legally and politically. Any city contributions must benefit the pantry and its operation directly, but not the church.
Therefore, city councilors were comfortable in stipulating its donation be used for furnishings; specifically for a walk-in freezer, because it is an asset that can be removed and returned to the city should the pantry organization become defunct.
The North Liberty City Council initially talked about donating $12,500, the estimated cost of the walk-in freezer. However, council member Terry Donahue suggested the city build in an extra amount in case the freezer turns out to be more expensive. If the purchase price of the freezer comes in under $15,000, DuBois will return to council and ask the city for ways to apply the remainder of the city’s cash.
“It is similar to how a grant works,” DuBois said after the meeting. “If you don’t spend all the money, there are sometimes specific guidelines on how you can spend additional funds.”
DuBois said the city’s contribution– and its ongoing support– are very appreciated. As of this year, the pantry now averages 490 visits per month, indicative of the great need in North Liberty.
“With the limited social services in North Liberty, it’s difficult for many people to access the resources in Iowa City. We are so fortunate the city recognizes that the pantry is so important for so many families in the community,” said DuBois.
City support is pretty unusual for food pantries in general, she added.
“We visit other pantries every year, just to see how they operate. We have been to the Quad Cities, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, and to have this level of city support, even for pantries run by cities, is pretty rare,” said DuBois.
Including the city’s recent contribution, the pantry has collected $221,000 in donations and grants, close to the total needed to build and equip the new pantry debt-free.
The pantry has signed a construction contract with general contractor South Gate Development, and they are hoping to break ground on the new building this fall.
With just $30,000 to go, donations are still being accepted, and people can still purchase personalized bricks to be placed in a planned Neighbors Helping Neighbors patio. At $1,000 each, the completion of the project is literally 30 bricks shy of a full load. However, contributions in any denomination are welcome, DuBois said.
“It is great the way the entire community has come together to build this building,” DuBois said. “We have had donations everywhere from $20, from families served by the pantry, up to $25,000. It’s been a blessing to have so much support.”
For information on how to make a contribution or purchase a commemorative brick, contact the pantry at 319-626-2711, email nlpantry@gmail.com, or visit the pantry’s website at www.northlibertycommunitypantry.org. The pantry is located at 85 North Jones Blvd. in North Liberty.

2008 $5,000
2009 $8,000
2010 $11,000
2011 $11,000
2012 $12,000