GENOA – Brenda Merritt held a jar of peanut butter in her hand Thursday, standing in the packed space of the city’s new Genoa Area Community Food Hub downtown, and expressed her gratitude.
“You are standing in a modern day miracle,” said Merritt, former head of the Genoa-Kingston Food Pantry, which is now housed in the food hub, 415 W. Main St.
It’s a food pantry, a community kitchen, an education center and more, and now the food hub – the brainchild of Dan Kenney, executive director of DeKalb County Community Gardens and Heather Edwards, associate director and Walnut Grove Vocational Farm program director – is open for business. It’s 2,300 square feet of newly designed space in the heart of Genoa, which will offer folks a chance to get fresh produce, grocery and household items, and take classes on how to prepare items such as squash and other vegetables you might get from one of the gardens’ 57 plots of land around the county.
Edwards said 14% of DeKalb County residents are food insecure. In the Genoa-Kingston school district, 40% of students received free and reduced-cost lunch, and Edwards said in order to qualify with a free lunch with a family of four, that means the family owns less than $32,000 a year.
“We’re hoping to get and reach more people within this community,” Edwards said.
The Genoa-Kingston Food Pantry used to be housed in the basement of Faith United Methodist Church, 325 S. Scott St., and because of the church’s age, wasn’t able to offer accessible entrances or frozen or refrigerated items.
The food pantry held its first shift Jan. 20 in the new space, and helped 42 families units, Merrit said. They’ll also be able to offer expanded hours, going from once a month to once a week. The pantry will be open the first and third Monday of every month from 9 to 11 a.m., and the second and fourth Tuesday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Haleigh Hunger, food hub director, said patrons are afforded even more dignity and anonymity if they choose to get food from the hub. They’re also piloting a program with 10 families who will be able to order their food items online, drive to the hub, wait outside and have their bag delivered to them.
“Nobody knows their name,” Hunger said. “They’ll just order their food, and have it brought to their car.”
Food accessibility, especially access to fresh produce and nutritional fare, is at the center of the community gardens’ mission, one Kenney said he hopes to address with the food hub. He next plans to create a larger scale food center in DeKalb.
“At the heart of it all is community,” Kenney said. “When I was growing up, I’d read about different heroes of mine. And they always said the important thing is to follow your dream, and what you need will come across your path. And that’s been very true.”