Metro-East News

Local food pantry will likely make its fourth move with city’s help

The Fairview Heights Area Food Pantry accepts a shipment from the St. Louis Area Foodbank. The pantry is located in a Fairview Heights fire house at 412 St. Clair Road.
The Fairview Heights Area Food Pantry accepts a shipment from the St. Louis Area Foodbank. The pantry is located in a Fairview Heights fire house at 412 St. Clair Road.

The Fairview Heights Area Food Pantry had a dilemma: In September, it wasn’t certain that it would have a building to work out of for much longer.

It’s a problem volunteers had already faced three times before as they moved their operation around Fairview Heights through the years.

This time, the city is stepping in with a possible solution.

Public Works Director John Harty said the city is in the final stages of drafting an agreement with the pantry. It will come before the City Council for a vote at its Oct. 18 meeting.

For now, the pantry is housed in one of the city’s original fire houses at 412 St. Clair Road, which was also used to store fire equipment until recently, according to Sue Ganschinietz, the pantry’s board president.

“They no longer need the space. They can’t afford the $10,000 a year upkeep on a building that they don’t use,” she said.

Fire Chief Bryan Doyle said that equipment has recently been moved around to other fire houses. Firefighters previously used the old building for training, he said, and a Cub Scouts group would meet there, but it has since disbanded. So Doyle said the Fairview Volunteer Fire Department Inc., which owns the building, decided to sell.

The St. Clair Road property will be auctioned at 6 p.m. Oct. 20, according to Adam’s Auction and Real Estate Services Inc., which will conduct the auction. A minimum bid is set at $40,000, Doyle said.

Ganschinietz said the pantry can’t afford to buy the fire house itself with the donations it receives.

“We pay no rent; We pay part of the utility bill, and that’s about all we can afford to pay,” Ganschinietz said.

The buyer would officially close on the property on Nov. 20, Doyle said, but when exactly the pantry would have to vacate the building would be up to that new owner.

Harty said he’s been “running as fast as I can” to turn the proposed agreement around with the help of municipal staff, including the city attorney.

“We know they are under a tight schedule,” he said.

The pantry, which is represented by all church congregations in Fairview Heights, serves 140 families each month. Doyle said he has seen first-hand how many community members visited the fire house for supplies.

“We know that the food pantry is definitely something that the city needs desperately,” he said.

I will do everything I can to support the pantry in order for it to continue its mission.

Mark Kupsky, Fairview Heights mayor, on the Fairview Heights Area Food Pantry

JoAnn Nadler, a longtime pantry volunteer, said they started talking with the City Council about an available space in City Hall after sitting down with Mayor Mark Kupsky.

Kupsky said he’s sensitive to the needs of those served by the pantry.

“I will do everything I can to support the pantry in order for it to continue its mission,” he said in response to submitted questions.

The volunteers are interested specifically in a portion of what is known as the senior center in the basement of City Hall, Harty said. It includes direct access to a parking lot with no stairs, Harty said, which will make receiving donations easy for the pantry.

It’s slightly smaller than the pantry’s current 1,900-square-foot spot, according to Nadler. Because of the size, Nadler said the pantry might have to build some shelves there to accommodate its supplies, and it would have to make changes to the space to bring its refrigerators and freezers to City Hall.

“We’re going to adapt, I guess,” Nadler said.

According to Harty, a wall would need to be built on the west side of the space with electrical work to supply the pantry’s six cooling and freezing units. The operations committee decided that the city should foot the bill for the renovation with a unanimous vote at its Oct. 5 meeting. In fact, under the proposed agreement, the only cost to the food pantry would be a $1 annual rent payment. The city will continue to pay the utility bills.

Ward 3 Alderman Pat Baeske, who serves on the operations committee, said she feels confident that the agreement will be approved without issue by the full council.

“The city can give them an area that we’re not using that will help them tremendously,” Baeske said. “... I believe that everyone is pleased to help the food pantry in any way that we can.”

Baeske’s fellow committee member, Ward 2 Alderman Roger Lowry, stated in an email to the News-Democrat that he is also in favor of helping food pantry.

Nadler is optimistic about the space in City Hall, but said she’s keeping in mind that nothing is final yet.

“I have good feelings about this,” she said.

Although the volunteers have been worried about the continued operation of the pantry, Ganschinietz said she agrees with the decision to sell the St. Clair Road property rather than use fire district funds on a food pantry operation. The pantry volunteers harbor no ill will, she said.

“We do not feel that it is wrong for the fire department to sell the building; we feel they’re justified,” she said.

Chief Doyle said the Fairview Volunteer Fire Department Inc. plans to turn over the money from the sale to fire district trustees, and that it might be used toward the district’s debt on its two-year-old station. It took out a loan to build the 214 Ashland Ave. location, according to Doyle.

There are a few people who Doyle said have expressed interest in purchasing the old fire house, which has stood in Fairview Heights since the 1930s.

“There’s certainly some history there, some memories there,” Boyle said. “... When I came on in ’83, I responded to that building.”

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes