Posted Online: April 22, 2013, 12:00 am

Colona Food Pantry marks 31 years of friendship, commitment to helping others

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By Lisa Hammer,

Photo: Lisa Hammer
Helen Russell holds cans in the food pantry storeroom as volunteers Marlie Stiner and Dave Rice look on.
COLONA -- A decades-old friendship and a focus on helping others has kept the Colona Food Pantry going strong for 31 years.

Hazel Sletten, Helen Russell and Art Ash have been with the pantry for 31 years and Audrey Allen for 29 years, according to Mrs. Sletten.

She said her involvement started from helping out when parents didn't pick up their children from Colona School on time.

"The school knew that I would always take the kids if their parents didn't come after them," she said. "One morning a man came and knocked on my door and had two little fellers. He wanted to know if I'd feed them.

"He said he didn't want to be fed, but I said 'yes,' and that started it. I decided if those people were hungry, there's lots more out there."

She said it took paperwork and phone calls to get it going. Today, the pantry not only has canned goods but also produce, two large chest freezers and six or seven upright freezers to store food.

The pantry started in the basement of the old Green Rock City Hall and police station, with the late Louella Schultz as the first director.

Within a few years, Colona Township, the village of Colona and the city of Green Rock went together and built a pantry addition onto the police station. The township donated $15,000, and each city gave $5,000.

The women said the big sponsors of the pantry are Colona churches. They also spoke of the generosity of people in the community in general. A man from Moline gives them $80 per month, and St. John's Evangelical Free Church in Edford Township donates regularly.

Last year, Mrs. Sletten said she opened an envelope with six $100 bills in it, and there was no return address.

"Some people asked for donations for the food pantry instead of gifts for an anniversary or birthday," Audrey Allen said. "Everything that comes in goes out in food. Nobody gets paid."

"We've never gotten a dime," Mrs. Sletten said. "The trucker, maybe we give him $20 out of our own pocket for gas money once in awhile."

Other organizations, including the school, do fundraisers for the food pantry, but the food pantry personnel don't do fundraisers themselves. The school has given proceeds from chili cook-offs, and the village of Cleveland has donated from motorcycle poker run proceeds.

"It's a good community," Mrs. Allen said.

The women say they can tell times have become harder the last few years. In 2008, they served 40 families, but now they are up to at least 200 per month.

The pantry is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the first four Wednesdays of the month. The city recently gave them space in the former Church of God at the corner of 8th Street and 7th Avenue.

Families can come once per month, unless they're hungry before the next visit."If we find out they're hungry, we're going to knock on their door," Mrs. Sletten said. "I think that's the only pantry that delivers."

They follow federal guidelines for giving out food, but don't have to be as strict with local donations.

They said two weeks ago a little boy told them he was eating two pot pies for dinner and his mother wasn't eating, and there were four people in the family.

"It's just so sad," Mrs. Sletten said. "No matter who I talk to, they tell me it's not getting much better."

Art Ash said typical rent is about $800 per month, and he said he doesn't see how a family trying to live on minimum wage can make it.

He said the food pantry has good volunteers."Everybody gets along. You can ask for help if you've got a packing order, and they're right there."

"Volunteers here would give their left arm, honest to Pete they would," Mrs. Sletten said.
Why stay with it for so many years?

Volunteer Bill Clark said the women take their responsibility seriously."The standard line is they'd let other people do it, but they can't do it right," he said with a grin.

Mrs. Sletten said it would be hard to turn the reins over to someone who might not be able to open the pantry regularly, such as a young woman with a baby or someone going to school.

"They can't help it that baby's sick, or they've got to go to school. It's better to be like this. We only cross that bridge when we come to it," she said.

"I said I haven't got any talent, and God gave me this talent to help people," she said with a smile.

The group recently was honored by Colona Mayor Danny McDaniel and the city council with city medallions and a standing ovation.