Simple & free: New food pantry at Iowa City Senior Center hopes to cater to community

A new food pantry at the Iowa City Senior Center celebrated its grand opening in a ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday.

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Simple & free: New food pantry at Iowa City Senior Center hopes to cater to community

A new food pantry at the Iowa City Senior Center celebrated its grand opening in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday.

A new food pantry at the Iowa City Senior Center celebrated its grand opening in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday.

A new food pantry at the Iowa City Senior Center celebrated its grand opening in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday.

A new food pantry at the Iowa City Senior Center celebrated its grand opening in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday.

Caleb McCullough, News Reporter

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In a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday, community members celebrated the grand opening of the Simple & Free: Pantry Exchange, a food pantry located in the Iowa City Senior Center.

The pantry has been operating since January, Senior Center coordinator LaTasha DeLoach said, but the ceremony on Monday was the official grand opening.

The pantry is meant to provide a convenient place for community members, especially older adults, to have access to free essentials. The Food Bank at CommUnity (formerly the Crisis Center), 1121 S. Gilbert Court, may be a difficult location to travel to for some community members, DeLoach said.

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“If you’re a senior and … you have any kind of mobility issues, or it’s just not convenient for you, then getting to that location is tough,” DeLoach said.

Another reason for the pantry, she said, is food insecurity among seniors is more common than people may realize. With costs of medication and other essentials, she said, seniors often don’t get the full nutrition they need.

“When you’re thinking about food insecurity, our folks who are elderly or older adults are usually left out of that narrative,” DeLoach said.

The pantry is not regulated or monitored, DeLoach said, and there are no restrictions on who may use it. While it’s located in the Senior Center, the pantry is open to the public and not restricted to members of the center.

“We just wanted to provide a little bit of space, just a small space, a way for people to take what they need and give what they could,” DeLoach said.

The pantry also accepts donations of toiletries, DeLoach said. Being located in the Senior Center and focused on the needs of seniors, she said, the pantry gets donations that other food banks may not have.

“We get items that I don’t think other places think about, like denture cleansers or incontinence products,” DeLoach said.

The ceremony was attended by a small number of center members, employees, and community members. Center member Chuck Felling said he was excited about the convenience of the new pantry.

“We have the big food banks and all that around, [but] this is handy,” he said.

Felling volunteers at the CommUnity Food Bank, and he said economic strains often cause food insecurity among seniors.

UI social-work student Daniela Bularzik, an employee at the Senior Center, said the pantry would increase accessibility to food, especially for those in downtown with disabilities.

Bularzik said center staff don’t have exact numbers on who uses the pantry, but she assumes it is used mostly by older adults and members of the Senior Center.

“We’re not controlling who’s putting things in, who’s taking things out, so it’s hard to track it, especially just starting,” Bularzik said. “But I would say it’s primarily people that are either members here or are in this building for different programs.”

DeLoach said she hopes to get the kitchen in the Senior Center fully operational and begin offering community cooking classes.

“We’re going to expand on this concept about how we feed our community,” she said. “It’s important not to just provide food but to show people how to make nutritious food.”

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