CANTON, Mo. -- The Lewis County Food Pantry is getting a new home and a new lease on life.
The pantry has been housed for the past 20 years at Canton's First Baptist Church, and it has been managed for the last 11 years by volunteer Nina Porter, now in her mid-70s.
When Porter said in December that she planned to retire from her leadership role after this year's June 9 food distribution, the church announced it also would stop serving as the pantry's host site when Porter stepped down.
Until recently, there was concern the pantry might have to be closed or moved to another county if a new food-distribution site could not be found. However, those worries dissipated when a new group of volunteers stepped up and offered to host the pantry at a new location.
Starting in July, the monthly food distributions will take place at the former Canton Auto store in the 400 block of Clark Street. A group of volunteers, led by Amanda Gosik, is forming a nonprofit organization that will lease the building and use fundraisers to pay rent and utility costs.
"We're just so grateful that this new group is taking over," said Janese Silvey, communications coordinator with the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, headquartered in Columbia.
The food bank brings a truckload of free food each month to the pantry, which serves an average of 260 families -- roughly 655 individuals -- each month, Silvey said.
She said having a food distribution site is vital because the demand for food has been increasing in recent years.
"It is so important," Silvey said. "We need a presence in Canton. We know that the need is there, and we know that people can't always travel to a different community to pick up food."
Silvey said the monthly distributions will continue on the same schedule as before. Food will be distributed to county residents on the Friday following the first Tuesday of each month from 9 to 11 a.m. and from 1 to 5 p.m.
"We expect a seamless transition," Silvey said. "We won't miss a beat."
Gosik, who is pastor of Canton Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), said she and other volunteers are happy to keep the food pantry in operation.
"There are hungry people in Lewis County, and we are compassionate about making sure that they are fed," Gosik said. "We know that there's hunger in Lewis County, and if we can do something about it, then why wouldn't we?"
Gosik said plans call for renovating the new site so it will be ready for the next food distribution on July 7.
"There will be changes, and people need to be patient and attentive to those changes," Gosik said. "For example, homebound delivery will only be allowed with a signed proxy."
Silvey said social service caseworkers will serve as proxies and will pick up food on behalf of elderly and disabled clients who can't go to the pantry.
Gosik said parking might be an issue at the new location. "We remind everyone to park legally and to be patient," she said.
Gosik said more changes may be made in coming months to meet the needs of more Lewis County residents. For instance, she said, "we are exploring ways to be responsive to working people who qualify and need food assistance."
Anyone interested in volunteering at the pantry can call Judy Eaton, NECAC community services representative, at 573-288-3969. Gosik said a meeting for volunteers will be held before the July 7 distribution.