Vietnam-era veteran Garry Lienen, Davenport, steered his wheelchair and shopping cart through the aisles of a large food pantry, stocked with everything from fresh plums to canned chickpeas.
The River Bend Food Pantry, in a former footwear store at a NorthPark Mall property in Davenport, is a busy spot where shoppers lined up more than an hour ahead of opening time to sign in, grab a cart and, while they follow the arrows on the carpet, select food, including milk and breakfast cereal.
Pantries opened earlier this year at both SouthPark Mall, Moline, and NorthPark Mall.
"NorthPark and SouthPark Malls are being re-imagined and we are looking at what best serves our visitors," said Jerry Jones, senior property manager. "Through this process, we partnered with River Bend Foodbank and are happy to impact the members of our community. "
Dana Myrick, of Davenport, pantry coordinator, says the food arrives by truck on the days the pantry isn’t open for clients. “Dedicated volunteers show up and help us put it away,” she said.
The pantry is open 4-6:30 p.m. Tuesday, and 9-11 a.m. Thursday and Saturday.
“We’re always this busy,” Myrick said while more than 100 people gathered long before official opening at 4 p.m. SouthPark hours are 9-11 a.m. Tuesday and Saturday, 4-6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
One day in October, the pantry served 263 families, a record number. Usually it serves about 200 families each day it is open. Sometimes the numbers are higher, “Especially toward the end of the month,” Schroder said. “We tend to see an increase because SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits have run out.”
“We used to do monthly distributions from our warehouse in Davenport,” said Jennifer Schroder, of River Bend. “It got to be too large to manage. We went from serving 200 families in three or four hours to serving more than 1,000.”
The location is a good one, she said, because it’s part of the mall, but not in the mall.
“Obviously, the word’s getting out,” she said. “The number of guests we serve has continued to increase every month.”
Shoppers chatted while volunteers helped load carts and guided them to various foods. Much of the food is from The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP,) a federal program to help American on low incomes by providing them with emergency food. “There has been an overwhelming influx of food from TEFAP,” Schroder said.
The NorthPark pantry, which opened in the summer earlier this year, “is another great way to distribute the food,” she said.
River Bend opened its food pantry at SouthPark Mall, Moline, to distribute a surplus of food arriving from a federal trade-mitigation program.
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture began the program to help farmers hurt by the trade dispute and the new tariffs on farm products.
The result is piles and pallets of food at the pantry, where guests continued to stream in the door. Each family selected the products they wanted.
“This is client choice,” Schroder said. “Guests can choose what they need and what they want.”
Schroder figures people come only when they need to; otherwise, they wouldn’t stand in line for an hour to get food.
“In our thinking, you’re only going to come if you need to, “ she said. She added guests might need the pantry for a brief or extended time, depending on circumstances – until they can get back to work or find a job, for example. “We’re here to welcome everyone and get you the food you need,” she said.
While shoppers made their selections, more than a dozen volunteers scurried to help customers and keep food stocked. Among them was Samantha Howard, 24, of Clinton, who bagged fresh plums – 14 per bag.
“I volunteer because it makes me feel happy,” she said. “You’re helping those who aren’t always in the best place.”
“It gives me something to do. It gets me out of the house,” said regular volunteer Myrna Cudmore, 68, of Davenport. “I cannot believe all the food we get in here."
Dee Barron, who just moved to Rock Island, was all smiles. “I think it’s awesome,” she said. “I think it’s great.”
Lienen, an Army veteran, said he visits the NorthPark pantry once a week, and visits other pantries to help him get by on Social Security. “It feeds me,” he said.