MARION — On a Tuesday, the Churches of Marion Food Pantry supplied goods to 47 families; the next Thursday it was 48 families with 134 members.
"Isn’t that amazing," says Clarice Hinds. "It just keeps going up."
"I don’t know if it’s the economy or what," adds her husband, Frank.
The food pantry turned 30-years-old in July and Clarice, 88, has been there for 29. Frank, who is 92, soon joined her.
The couple met in Dixon, Ill., where Frank, fresh off 25 missions as a B-17 flight engineer, was assigned to recruit WACS for medical units. Clarice, just out of business college, did the books at the Greyhound bus depot in the same building.
They’ll celebrate their 68th anniversary Jan. 22.
"Instead of recruiting her into the WACS, I recruited her into marriage," Frank laughs.
The Hinds came to Cedar Rapids in 1950 when Frank became a production foreman at Collins Radio, which Clarice joined as a secretary a decade later. Frank left after 22 years and became a maintenance supervisor and bus driver at Linn-Mar Community Schools, retiring in 1985. Clarice retired in 1982.
Here, they’re in charge of food procurement and storage. That means they welcome donations of the food and staples stocked by the pantry, buy additional items using cash contributions and stock the shelves.
The pantry, located in a classroom building behind the First Presbyterian Church, is backed by nine Marion churches. It also receives donations from Cedar Rapids and other Linn County congregations, people who grow large vegetable gardens and from area fund raisers and food drives.
"The big food drive is coming the 13th," Clarice says, referring to Saturday’s annual Scouting for Food Collection Day by area Boy Scouts.
"We’ll fill up pretty good then," Frank adds.
While this food drive concentrates on canned goods — you’ll find vegetables, fruits, meats, soups, pie fillings — the pantry also dispenses boxed goods, cereal, eggs, powdered milk, Jell-O, paper products and, of course, peanut butter.
"You wouldn’t believe it," Clarice says. "When I started, we’d take a jar of peanut butter and scoop a little bit into cups to give to everyone. You couldn’t do that any more."
Those were the days of government cheese, too, when hunks were sliced from a big block. When corn meal was poured into open containers.
Now, everything is prepackaged. When Clarice goes shopping, it’s usually a pre-order through HACAP or a trip to Aldi’s grocery store. Frank hauls the goods in his little red pickup to a small loading dock out back.
In the early days, when the food pantry operated out of a house, the goods were loaded through one window and dispensed through another.
These days, customers arrive through a lobby (the pantry is open from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursdays for Linn County residents) and register at a counter. If it’s a first visit, they’re screened for eligibility.
"It’s so busy, you can’t get through here," Clarice says. "It’s just unbelievable where all the food comes from. People are so giving."