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Roberts Food Pantry unpacked at new location

The room still has that nice new building smell to it, despite the wall-covering shelves of food housed in it.

The Roberts UCC Community Food Pantry, which serves the St. Croix Central School District, changed locations along with the UCC Church when it moved to 1001 Birch Drive, just off of Highway 12 in Roberts.

The Pantry is located in the far west wing of the new building.

The Food Pantry has always worked in conjunction with the church, said Director Roene Frederick.

It originally was just a few shelves at the back of the old UCC building only open on designated Sundays.

Molly Schultz got things going after that, Frederick said. About six years ago, the Pantry grew to the point that it needed additional staffing and a four-person Board was formed.

When plans were being drafted for the new church building, the congregation invited the Pantry to move along with them as it had become a service project of theirs.

Roberts UCC agreed to continue providing space, heat and electricity to the Pantry. The Pantry volunteers do the rest of the work, like stocking, organizing and picking up donations

"The church has been very good to us," said Frederick.

The only requirement the church had for the Pantry in the move was to get the space ready. That included sheetrocking and taping, purchasing and installing the flooring, buying shelves and getting appliances.

With help from the community, the Food Pantry successfully moved to its new location a little over a month ago.

"Everything is brand new," said Frederick. "We are very excited to be here."

Donations like appliances, reduced prices and free labor helped along the way.

"Everyone gave very generous donations," said Frederick.

Those donations and community support are what the food pantry relies on.

"If the public knows we have a need, they'll be there to help," said Mary Thorsen, Food Pantry Board member.

"We probably have more community support than any food pantry I've heard of. It's outstanding," said Frederick.

Thorsen and Frederick have loads of stories about groups dropping off food donations.

One that brings laughs is when last year's kindergarten class tromped over to the Pantry with their backpacks stuffed with all the food they collected in 100 days.

Another memorable drive was when a limousine pulled up to the building, crammed with food donations after a drive. The winning group of that drive got to spend the night out in the limo after it was emptied.

Groups around town, like the Roberts Lions and the Boy Scouts, can always be relied upon for food drives or donations, whether the Pantry is expecting them or not.

Other donations are always coming in, whether from a group drive or a private check handed to a Board member.

Frederick and Thorsen said the community seems to know when to bring things in. When supplies are running low, even on a certain item, somehow it always gets to the shelf in time.

"It just always seems to work out. It's just phenomenal," said Thorsen.

There's always a need for more though, said Frederick. "There's no question that it will be tough keeping up from now on."

With the cost of everything rising, food is an area that struggling people can cut money from, Frederick explained. That reduction in food budgets means more people in the St. Croix Central School District will be in need.

Although the shelves look full, Frederick pointed out that some areas, like canned vegetables, are heavily stocked while other areas, like juices and fruits, are severely lacking.

Pancake mix, syrup, jam and Rice-a-Roni top the list of needs for the Roberts area food shelf. Cleaning supplies are also welcomed with open arms.

Frederick added, "There really isn't anything anyone could bring that we won't use."

The Pantry serves anyone living in the St. Croix Central School District, not just the Village of Roberts. The area is about 84 square miles, Frederick said.

On average 35 to 40 families, or roughly 175 people, visit the pantry each month.

Of the total number of people, approximately 56 are from the Roberts area, 33 are from the Hammond area.

Both Frederick and Thorsen stress that most of the people using the pantry are in the "working poor" class.

Issues like low wages, cut hours, high energy costs, medical bills or other unplanned expenses drive people to the pantry for help.

The food from the pantry goes to supplement their income. The expenses and food costs are just crippling.

"No one ever comes in to the pantry and goes home without food. They need it," said Frederick.

The Pantry is staffed by volunteers. Besides the Board, there are about five volunteers.

Frederick said there's practically a waiting list of people wanting to spend time helping out the food pantry.

"We get a lot of satisfaction working here but you worry about them (people using the pantry) too," Frederick said.

"You don't see poor people until you work here. They certainly are there," she added.

The food pantry is open from 9-11:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 6:30-8 p.m. on Wednesdays. Appointments, if necessary, can be set by calling 749-3478.