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Illinois Kiwanians quickly start up a pantry as coronavirus hits

Steven Hadt | May 06, 2020

Greater Riverton Area food pantry

Hundreds of families have food on their tables during this time of economic uncertainty because of 15 people in Central Illinois. When the effects of the coronavirus started decimating paychecks and many small food pantries stopped operating, these 15 Kiwanis members quickly figured out how to start and run a pantry of their own.

It’s all the more remarkable considering how new their club is.  

“Kiwanis was exactly what this town needed,” said Jeb Brown, charter president of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Riverton Area. “This town has seen a lot of clubs come and go. But they haven’t seen anything like this Kiwanis club.”

Greater Riverton original food pantryTimes were different just a year ago, when the club chartered and members decided to build a “blessings box” — a micro food pantry — in front of the local high school. The Kiwanis club would buy the food, and Key Clubbers would help make sure it was stocked every day.

“We hit the ground running with ideas of helping students at the school,” Brown said. “We took an oath to keep our club focused on the needs of the kids at the school.”

By the end of that first week, Brown estimates about 60 people took food from the box. Less than a year later, the club is spending US$2,500 to $3,000 that’s donated each week on food. That doesn’t include the bags of rice, cans of soup and boxes of produce that are donated to the club.

For the past six Tuesdays, more than 100 cars have lined up as club members put eggs, milk, apples and other groceries into the backseats and trunks. On Mondays, club members accompany school officials as they take food to families of students who are struggling. The rest of the week, Brown distributes food through the drive-thru window of his business, Riverton Party Store.

Greater Riverton Area Charter PartyThe club’s work attracted the attention of the news media after a columnist wrote a story about getting angry while waiting for a cashier to ring up Brown for 12 gallons of milk. The columnist thought Brown was hoarding. The cashier set him straight.

“We’ve been getting quite a bit of attention lately,” he said. “This has taken over my life. But my business is down. I might as well do something to help others.”

The club is already thinking about what happens when the quarantine is lifted. They’re trying to figure out how to recognize the high school seniors who are missing major milestones like prom and graduation. Brown also figures the club will continue to be involved in feeding families.

“We’re so blessed that we put this club together when we did,” he said. “It’s likeminded folks for the goal of helping others.”

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