'We have a desperate need here': Belleville food pantry looks for new building

News-DemocratMay 23, 2013 

The volunteers at the Community Interfaith Food Pantry in Belleville pretty much use every inch of space in their building.

But the operation has grown to where they need more room.

The pantry, run by a group of 12 area churches, provides food and personal care items to families in Belleville and Swansea once a month.

The operation is tucked inside what used to be a small house at 205 W. B St. in Belleville. Shelves, pantries and freezers line the walls. A small basement space, accessed by a steep and narrow stairway, is some help. People gathering food have to maneuver around each other.

"We have a desperate need here," said Jim Young, the new co-director of the charity, which is run by longtime director Jerry Messick. "We are looking for space in the range of 6,000 to 10,000 square feet. It needs to be all on one level, close to a bus route and in the same general neighborhood."

Young said they need room to operate and more room to store food in larger quantities.

"There is a St. Louis food pantry which can ship pallets of food," he said. "We have to say no because we have no way to handle them and no place to put them. I'm afraid if we keep saying no they will quit calling."

The pantry is serving from 400-450 families a month and that load probably will increase now that kids are out of school, he said.

The pantry has been looking for either space to build on or a building they can remodel for a couple of years, he said.

"Everything we have tried hasn't worked out," Young said. "We either have someone wanting $380,000 for a place and not budging, or someone offering a place that it would cost too much to fix.

"A lot of people are looking but no one has found anything that would work."

One example of a place that didn't work out is only a block away from the pantry where a large expanse of asphalt has been unused for years.

Young said they inquired about it and were told it was in a flood plain and also a wave plain of Richland Creek.

Young said he had never heard of a wave plain but it was explained that if the area flooded the water would be deep enough to cause waves.

"We also were told we would have to deal with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and we didn't even want to think about that," he said.

Like he said, they are desperate. So desperate that they have come to my column. Somebody help these people.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 618-239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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