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Solon pantry prepares for opening

SOLON– Keep it simple. That’s the advice Jeff Kapparos, director of the Southeast Linn Community Center, gave Solon food pantry organizers who were seeking a model for housing and sharing food with those who are struggling to feed their families.
“Don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be,” he said.
The plain-spoken advice from Kapparos, who helps run the Lisbon food pantry serving Southeast Linn County families, came as the Solon food pantry gets set to open its doors on June 4 for the first time to redistribute donated food to those in need.
“Get the food and give it out,” he told the group.
Kapparos praised the local churches, businesses and Mount Vernon and Lisbon city governments that support the Lisbon food bank, “the best part is when it’s fully supported by the community.”
The Solon pantry will operate out of a temporary space at the Solon United Methodist Church.
Volunteers met last week to arrange teams to staff the food assistance program before June 4.
The food pantry team discussed conducting a trial run of the service for families in need and sought help in collecting, sorting and helping people find food.
The Solon food pantry will not be a one-stop shop for all a family’s needs, but is designed to be a supplemental program. The amount they can take home will be based on the number in the family but anyone is welcome to receive help in the form of donated food. Families from outside the area are also welcome to receive assistance from the food bank, but the focus will be on area families.
“We won’t ever have enough to give a family for a whole week,” said Fred Bark, a member of the pantry’s governance committee.
The pantry group is still seeking a permanent site because the temporary space in Solon United Methodist Church lacks proper accessibility. A grocery picker may be used to gather items for anyone who cannot take the stairs.
At a meeting last week, the governance committee provided an update of the pantry’s progress and the nearly 30 volunteers in attendance were organized into teams to staff the pantry.
For those seeking to volunteer, Mondays are the best opportunity to help.
On Monday mornings, food will be weighed, organized and prepared for pantry visitors. During the day, volunteers will take inventory and welcome shoppers, and then the pantry will be cleaned and organized for the next week.
David Frisbie of rural Solon, a volunteer driver for Table to Table, will pack some food for Solon as he makes his Monday rounds collecting food from various businesses and restaurants.
The group has already received shelving from the Johnson Crisis Center and has a refrigerator for perishables.
The Johnson County Crisis Center has also acted in an advisory role for the startup food distribution center in Solon. Solon’s food pantry will cover the Solon school district, Ely, Swisher, Shueyville and the Northeast corner of Johnson County. The area is currently served by Iowa City and North Liberty food banks.
“If 10 families are insecure when it comes to food, you have enough of a need to have a pantry in your community,” said Carol Kress, lead minister at Solon United Methodist Church.
Kelly Crossley, Solon school nutrition director, said that 62 separate families currently have a need for free and reduced lunches.
Twenty-three Solon families visited the Johnson County Crisis Center last month and the North Liberty Food Bank assisted 15 Solon families for help with food needs.
The Solon group is interested in purchasing a temporary building from the schools and then will find a permanent spot to connect utilities and water. Art Tellin, one of the leaders of the group, said they were seeking a benefactor to help find a home for the pantry.
Father Jim Vrba, of St. Mary Catholic Church, said, “there are vacant properties in Solon. We’re looking for a generous donor (to help the pantry find an accessible site).”
Dennis Arnold, pastor at Our Lord’s Church in Solon, said that if the community can throw its energy and hearts into the new program, it will be simple.
Simply helping, a good idea during the ongoing economic strife, but an idea that always applies. Arnold reminded the Solon group last week, “it’s more than just food we’re providing here.”