Community Food Pantry

Open to the Public
Monday: 9:00-11:00 a.m.
Tuesday: 1:00-3:00 p.m. and 6:30-8:00 p.m.
Wednesday: 9:00-11:00 a.m.
Thursday: 1:00-3:00 p.m.

Download 2014 brochure here

Download 2014 brochure in Spanish here


Annita & Ken take Rose, Store Manager @ WalMart North, on a tour of the Bethesda Food Pantry

25-Year Highlights of Bethesda Community Food Pantry

The Bethesda Community Food Pantry has humble beginnings. As we have said, it all began with a bag of groceries. Back in 1983, Pastors Les Gyllstrom and Charles Berdahl gave some food from the church kitchen to a young mother who needed it to feed her three small children. She was grateful and a need was met. To prepare for such emergencies, the pastors decided to invite Bethesda’s parishioners to bring food items for the Thanksgiving worship service. Bethesda responded, and this was the beginning of the Bethesda Community Food Pantry.

The need grew and a small food supply was maintained in the church. As time went on, the need for food continued to grow. When the church added a new kitchen in 1990, a section of the old kitchen was converted for use for the food pantry. The west end of Centennial Hall now houses the food pantry, with frozen and refrigerator space, shelves for all kinds of products, and a waiting area for our guests, people who come to the food pantry to get through tough times in their lives.

Bethesda again had an opportunity to respond to an emergency and meet community-wide needs during the Flood of 1993. The Bethesda Food Pantry became the hub for much of the food distribution in the Ames community when the Human Services Building on South Duff was flooded. This building housed all supplies for another emergency food program, Mid-Iowa Community Action. The Bethesda Food Pantry assisted MICA and their clients. An overflow of donations and food, cleaning supplies, diapers, and baby food came from Ames and around the country. The Food Pantry became a large operation, open every day, run almost entirely by volunteers from Bethesda with assistance from people from other church and community organizations. By the fall of 1993, the Bethesda Food Pantry was again operating on its own. But Bethesda had become known community-wide as the church that helps people in need. Referrals came from social service agencies, and word-of-mouth brought others.

It was a big day on July 23, 1998, when Governor Terry Branstad recognized five people who had worked with the Bethesda Food Pantry. Dick and Darlene Hade, Clarence Jones, and Pearl and John Sauke were honored with outstanding volunteer service awards from the governor. Later that year, the Bethesda Food Pantry also was the beneficiary when Barilla opened its $125 million pasta plant in Ames. The Italian company donated its first 280,000 lb. of pasta (about 18-20 semi-truckloads) to United Way, some of which made its way to food pantries in 32 communities.

Bethesda Community Food Pantry continued to be recognized in the community and to be supported by many individuals and organizations. Many groups regularly give to the food pantry, both financial contributions and donations of food. Ames letter carriers participate in an annual food drive each May, and some of those donations come to Bethesda. The same is true of Boy Scout troops, Iowa State University student organizations, neighborhood groups, businesses, and hundreds of individuals. Within the past year, the Bethesda Community Food Pantry has received donations from 20 Ames area businesses, 20 different congregations, 19 civic groups, 9 ISU employee-student groups, 4 non-ISU public agencies, and 7 schools and youth programs. In 2009, contributions totaled $56,422, and that did not include food items. Bethesda Lutheran Church provides the facility and utilities, but no budget for the food pantry. That’s where voluntary contributions–in food, money, and volunteers–comes in.

This year marked the addition of one evening a week that the food pantry would be open. Today the food pantry is open five times a week–Monday and Wednesday mornings, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and Tuesday evenings from 6:30 to 8 p.m. each week. This effort requires at least 100 volunteers. The food pantry in 2000 served about 200 families each month (about 600 people) and distributed 3,400 sacks of groceries. This also was the year that the food pantry began offering vouchers to guests so that people could buy dairy products at local grocery stores. Welfare reform and local situations continued to increase the need for emergency food. The number of people served by the food pantry increased by 24 percent from 2001 to 2002. A 2002 survey of food pantry recipients showed some of the reasons for the large jump: 27 percent said they were unemployed; 40 percent said they worked low-wage jobs; and 14 percent said they were retired and lived on a small income. They noted related problems: high cost of rent and utilities, the struggle to find full-time jobs, and the low pay of many jobs.

In March of this year, the food pantry began weighing food, allowing guests to select what they wanted from stocked shelves. Families could receive a specified amount, based on the number and age of family members. The process took longer, and required more volunteers, but was an important step to providing food that people really wanted and needed. It also allowed the food pantry to obtain more food from the Food Bank of Iowa in Des Moines and result in less waste. (Personal items that are available from time to time, such as shampoo and paper products, are not weighed.)
A fall 2006 survey of 385 households that used the food pantry revealed even more about the need for this community service. One-third of food recipients had health problems that required regular medication, one-third had a disability that limited their employment, one-third had no job for several months, one-third had children between the ages of 7 and 13, and 10 percent had gone to bed hungry during the previous month because food was not available.

For several years, the food pantry has subscribed to a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, and one share of fresh produce is offered each week to guests who use the food pantry. Today, fresh produce can be purchased at local grocery stores using the voucher available for each family. A variety of produce also is available from several sources:
· From Food at First, which collects produce from Walmart and Sam’s Club on a regular basis
· From Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry, an organization that collects excess fruits and vegetables from farmers market vendors and home gardeners
· From the Beloit Learning Garden, a youth garden for Beloit youth residents (an effort that is an outgrowth of the Bethesda Community Food Pantry)
· From Service Patch community garden in Ames and ISU food services

Here’s what we know about our guests:
· 60 percent have children
· 60 percent are from Ames
· 26 percent are living alone
· 52 percent have 1 to 3 people in their household (with 47 percent of those from even larger households of 4 or more people).
· Although they can come once a month, for many people it is their first visit to the food pantry and they may not come back for a year.
Here’s how much food we distribute:
· During June 2010, the Bethesda Community Food Pantry gave away 12,872 pounds of food. That’s more than 6 tons of food.
· And that’s only what we weigh. Each household is able to select up to 2 pounds of other food, bread and other bakery products, and fresh produce. Plus household and personal items are not weighed).
· During that same month, we served 463 households (about 1,855 people).