By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
FORT MADISON — Last month, members of four southeast Iowa parishes filled a huge need for the Fort Madison Food Pantry by helping with landscaping and yard work.
“It’s not one of those things you’d normally consider” essential to helping a food pantry thrive, said pantry board president Lynn Cramer. Many food pantries operate in a church building or another business or nonprofit building. Fort Madison Food Pantry previously rented space in a freestanding building owned by the city of Fort Madison. Last year, the city gifted the building to the food pantry. With ownership came a new responsibility: maintaining the building and grounds.
The building is located on a berm, surrounded by landscaping that must be tended to avoid overgrowth. The work is time-consuming and strenuous, she noted.
Nathan Clark, family and youth minister for St. Boniface Parish in Farmington, St. John Parish in Houghton, St. James Parish in St. Paul and St. Mary Parish in West Point, was looking for new volunteer opportunities for the parishes’ youths, who participate in monthly service projects. He reached out to food pantry volunteers Shirley Gable and Linda Menke, members of the St. Paul parish, to see how the students could help. “We wanted to support and serve their ministry however we could,” he said. The women expressed a need for volunteers to help with the landscaping.
On the windy evening of March 31, a group of about 15 youths and parents met at the food pantry to help with yard work and landscaping. Menke, who regularly helps with landscaping work at the food pantry, provided volunteers with the essentials: gloves, rakes, garbage cans and gardening shears. The volunteers cut ornamental grasses, cleared out dead perennials, raked under trees, trimmed evergreen trees and cleaned up the parking lot.
With strong teamwork, the group completed the tasks in about an hour. Menke said, “They helped a ton. I do a lot of the trimming myself, and that saved me days of work. It looks a lot better!”
Cramer said, “They were very, very helpful.” The local United Way operates out of the building, so the youths’ volunteerism helped that organization, as well.
Gabriel Clark, an eighth-grader from the West Point parish decided to help “because I thought I would help not only the community look better but also the place itself. I had fun with my friends there as well as I learned a few skills on how to help clean and move things.”
McKayle Schinstock, a seventh-grader from the St. Paul parish, said, “I had a lot of fun, it was a great experience, and I’m really glad that I went.”
Clark said he hopes to partner with the food pantry in the future “and do other projects to be a part of and help serve their great ministry.”