Local nonprofit CommUnity debuts new food pantry location

With a new 11,000 square foot facility, CommUnity’s new food pantry located in the south district aims to provide safe, socially distanced, choice shopping for customers in need.


Jeff Sigmund

Items in the warehouse as seen on Tuesday Nov.10,2020. Clients have different choices to pick from at the food pantry.

Claire Benson, News Reporter

Iowa City’s CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank nonprofit organization recently debuted its new food pantry location, located in the south district within Pepperwood Plaza, to better accommodate customers and allow for more social distancing.

CommUnity Marketing Director Nicole Kilmer said the nonprofit was able to open the new facility due to several grants awarded to the organization.  The new pantry opened on Monday.

Kilmer said the decision to move the food bank to a different facility was made to better accommodate customers and provide them with a larger space to allow social distancing and more food choice options.

“All of this was COVID related,” she said. “To be able to practice social distancing, this new space is 11,000 square feet, and it returns to choice shopping, which allows our clients to go back in and be able to choose the food they want.”

Aside from social distancing practices in place, she said the group has implemented several hand sanitizer stations, directional signs keeping customers and volunteers six feet apart, as well as requiring all their volunteers to take a COVID-19 awareness training program, in order to best protect their staff and customers.

Kilmer said by providing customers with the opportunity to shop for their food as they would in a grocery store, this eliminates excess food waste and allows customers to select food that appropriately fit their dietary needs.

“This is going to give our clients greater options to be able to satisfy their dietary needs,” the director said. “Having those pre-packaged bags of food, we noticed just a lot of waste with people throwing things away even right after they got their food. Returning to client choice, I believe, is going to be a great option for everybody in the area to meet their needs, and we’ll be able to take on even more clients.”

Kilmer said Table to Table — a social services agency based out of Iowa City that operates as a food rescue mission — is the largest supplier of different foods and produce to CommUnity’s food bank.

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Emily Meister, Table to Table’s food rescue program manager, said the organization provides almost half of their food to CommUnity. Additionally, half of CommUnity’s goods come from Table to Table.

“Our partnership is such a big part of what both Table to Table and CommUnity do,” Meister said. “So, we work together very closely daily, it’s what I kind of consider a mutually beneficial relationship, where we have all this food that’s available in the community that would go to waste and we want to prevent that from happening. So we collect that and we need partners who are willing to receive it and help get that out to community members.”

Heath Brewer, Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity executive director, said their local group was heavily involved in the construction and renovation of the new facility. Brewer’s team provided suggestions on the construction plans for the facility, she said, in addition to building walls, painting, and constructing furniture for customer seating areas.

“We were able to utilize some of our construction staff, some of our volunteers, and provide, hopefully, quite a bit of value to the food pantry,” Brewer said.

She went on to say CommUnity reached out to Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity about a possible partnership, something he said benefited both parties, as many nonprofits are currently attempting to figure out ways in which they can best serve the community’s pandemic-related needs.

“We’re kind of trying to shift what we can do, and we want to help as much as we can during that aftermath, affected by COVID,” Brewer said. “It sounded like a great opportunity for us to keep staff busy, obviously, and then engage some volunteer labor as was needed.”

Meister said she is excited for the opening of the new food pantry, as the location of the pantry is in a critical neighborhood that is often lacking essential community resources.

“There’s a lot of need here and it’s an often under loved area of the community, so I’m very excited that there’s some more services moving into the area,” she said. “It’s exciting to see some services being built over here to help out our community members, and I expect that they might see a big increase in who they’re serving just given this location.”