Lorna Rebhuhn and Linda George pack boxes at their food pantry

Lorna Rebhuhn and Linda George pack boxes at their food pantry. Food pantries have seen an uptick in demand amidst COVID-19 quarantines.

WEBSTER CITY, Iowa — Karen Camp is busy today. She and her friends at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church are filling boxes with food.

It’s all a part of the weekly routine here in the church basement, just as it is in countless other church basements and civic buildings and other locations all over the state. Volunteers work to fill boxes and bags with food to hand out for free to those who are less fortunate.

And those food pantries are busier than they were a year ago.

“I’ve been here seven years and it is amazing to see how the program has grown,” says Pastor Mark Eichler, who often helps with the effort. “We were serving something like three families a week at one time.”

Camp says the program grew to about eight families a week over time.

“But it really exploded since the COVID thing began,” she says.

Now the group is filling boxes for 30 to 35 families a week. This week it is 31 boxes. A few weeks earlier it was 37 boxes.

And St. Paul is not the only food pantry in town, much less in the county. There are others, all doing good work.

Every other month, the church sponsors a mobile food bank operation which often feeds 150 families or more.

Volunteers, church members, local businesses, supermarkets, and the Food Bank of Iowa (located in Des Moines) all help in the effort.

A normal week, Camp says, includes trips to the local HyVee and Fareway stores for donated goods such as day-old bread and numerous other items. There is also food brought up from the Food Bank in Des Moines, which sometimes includes USDA program items or any number of other things. Church members and others also donate items, including some fresh fruits and vegetables. And monetary donations go to fill in the gaps and buy other necessities.

But at the end of the day the effort depends heavily on volunteers. The women here today wear shirts that say “Live Generously.” They come in every week.

Lorna Rebhuhn ran the pantry when it was just one small cabinet in the church basement with some canned goods for anyone who needed them. Linda George is also a long-time volunteer. Camp coordinates the program here and is in the pantry pulling things off shelves today. Her granddaughter, Anna Irvin, 11, is also helping. Others, such as Lois Petersen, Diane Doering or Jo Reaman also often help. The pastor does his part as well.

But these women say they get a lot out of the volunteer work they do at the pantry.

“First of all, we truly are just fortunate (that people donate and help),” Camp says. “The community has been very good help.”

“We get something out of this too,” the pastor says. “There’s something we get out of caring for others.”

Comparing the idea to Jesus feeding the crowd during the sermon on the mount, he says “the miracle is still happening.”

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.