After publicity from column, Belleville food pantry finds new home

News-DemocratMay 1, 2014 

A lot of good things happen in the barbershop.

That's where I met Jim Young, co-director of the Community Interfaith Food Pantry in Belleville. He asked a barber to introduce me and told me his story.

He and his co-director, Jerry Messick, were looking for a larger place to house the food pantry now at 205 W. B St.

They were bursting at the seams of the converted house they use to store and distribute food to needy families.

So I wrote about it, grateful to have a column.

And they were grateful I did. The publicity produced some calls including one from the McCullough family, which used to have its flooring store at 1218 W. Main St.

That building is vacant and the food pantry worked out a deal to buy it for $158,000.

Now they will have 5,000 square feet instead of the less than 1,000 they were making do with.

The food pantry is one of several serving an important need in the area.

Amazingly, the leaders said their number of patrons is down slightly this year.

"We're serving from 550 to 600 families a month," Messick said. "That actually is down a little from last year."

"We're hoping it's not just a lull in the storm," Young added.

The pantry lives on donations, both of food and money.

Messick said the larger space will allow them to store more items at a time and take in larger donations that before they might have had to pass, like help from the St. Louis Food Bank.

"They might have a railroad car load of frozen chicken they need to distribute," he said. "We can get it almost free if we have a place to store it."

The larger space also will cut down on the number of trips they have to make, for example when to make frequent trips to get toilet paper, he said.

"Jerry's been hoarding money for three years to buy a place," Young said.

There were some specific requirements. The new building needed to be near the center of Belleville, it needed to be handicapped accessible and it needed to be on a bus line.

"I saw this building when McCullough moved to the old Wagner Buick dealership but we couldn't afford it at the time," Messick said.

That was when the Fast Tire Exchange moved in. They now are gone and the food pantry has found help to transform the building for its purposes.

The group Neighbors for Renewal has a three-month layoff before its next house is scheduled for construction, said Drew Kramer, pastor of St. Paul's Church of Christ of Belleville.

"You provide the materials, we provide the people, is that how you want to work it?" he asked the pantry people. "That's good. I have some people itching to work."

The groups met Thursday to examine the building and figure out what could be done.

"We have some ideas, but they might tell us they can't be done," Young said. "We're hoping to be up and going in 60 to 90 days."

Work is scheduled to begin Monday.

For more information or to volunteer, you can call the pantry at 618-355-9199 or visit their web site at feedbelleville.org.

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

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