Sanpete Pantry has learned to stand on its own over the years with dedicated volunteers, thinking outside the box
MT. PLEASANT—Started as a small charitable operation reliant on the support of a larger organization, the Sanpete Pantry has now bloomed into a fully independent nonprofit whose management has been thinking “outside the box” to keep pantry doors open and hungry mouths fed.
Since its birth as the Sanpete County branch of Richfield’s Central Utah Food Sharing (CUFS) in 1997, the Sanpete Pantry has come a long way. Once required to operate under the umbrella of CUFS to seek donations, the pantry has since qualified as a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Through creative fundraising, hard-working volunteers and resourceful thinking, the pantry no longer needs the support of CUFS, says pantry board member and volunteer Sean Kearney.
In 2013, funding from Central Utah Food Sharing was drying up. In August of the same year, the pantry received a letter saying it was no longer affiliated with Central Utah Food Sharing. That posed a big problem.
“We were shocked,” Kearney said.
The surprise disaffiliation took away the pantry’s legal ability to accept the donations needed to keep it running, since the pantry itself did not have registered nonprofit status.
Kearney and his wife Susan, who is also a board member and volunteer, found a temporary stop-gap in St. George’s Dixie Care and Share to facilitate legal donations and keep the doors open
The couple then began a 15-month process of applying for independent 501c3 status so they no longer had to worry about losing that problem again.
After becoming officially incorporated as the Sanpete Pantry nonprofit, the Kearneys began looking for new ways to keep the lights on and the food supply sufficient to meet the demand of the county’s under-privileged.
The first event held to raise funds for the Pantry was a golf tournament.
“We had been thinking about it for a while,” said Susan Kearney. “We got a group of people together, and that tournament became the beginnings of Drive4Food.”
The sole purpose of Drive4Food, which is its own separate 501C3 nonprofit, is to raise funds for the Sanpete Pantry. Susan Kearney says 99 cents out of every dollar raised by Drive4Food events goes directly to the pantry.
In addition to the golf tournament, the organizers behind Drive4Food added several others events to create a stable of charity support for the Pantry, including a 5k/10k run, a Halloween 5K, an OHV ride and a bowling tournament.
The Sanpete Pantry earns its money to pay the bills through the Drive4Food organization, but the food supply comes from a handful of other places.
Although it is a privately operated outfit, the pantry is affiliated with the Utah Food Bank, Sea Kearney says, and UFB supplies a portion of the food needs for the pantry. Other local businesses such as Walmart, Terrell’s and others also contribute by participating in the Grocery Rescue Program, which puts unsold groceries to good use, instead of allowing them to go to waste.
“An awful lot of people and businesses in the county have stepped up to help out, and we are always looking for partners to meet our supply needs,” Sean Kearney said. “Food drives from the Scouts and schools bring in a lot.”
Kearney said one school food drive had just completed and had raised approximately 7,000 pounds of food.
With all these efforts keeping operations going smoothly, the Sanpete Pantry Board of Directors is setting its sights on the future.
Pantry board members recently began the process of procuring $15,000 in matching funds to qualify for a $80,000 Community Development Block Grant to repave and expand the parking lot, which will cost more than $100,000 to accomplish, according to bids the board has received.
In an effort to raise the $15,000, Sean Kearney has gone around to various municipalities asking for contributions. He says they have raised more than $10,000 towards the project, and he is hopeful they will meet their goal with contributions like the $1,500 donation made by Manti City recently.
“Several cities have been very generous so far,” he said.
For instance, he requested $250 from Spring City. The city doubled it.
But passing the hat around only takes you so far, he says. “With a nonprofit operation like ours that depends on donations to operate, you’re always looking for new ways to generate revenue.”
Over the last year, the pantry has been launching a new revenue generation program based on collecting, baling and selling discarded cardboard.
Pantry board member Guy Gee found a cardboard bailer in Baltimore for $350. Gee and other volunteers bought the baler, transported it back to Sanpete, built a concrete pad to support it, and Mt. Pleasant City donated the work to have it properly installed.
The pantry now has a two-man team, Todd Billings and David Eicher, to collect cardboard from business and individuals, bale it and sell it for $60-$100 per ton.
“We go through a huge amount of cardboard, and with donations on top that, it’s a good source of revenue,” Sean Kearney said. He said the pantry is looking for as many donations of cardboard as it can get.
Innovative thinking like that helps to keep the pantry going and makes programs like KidPacks and home deliveries possible.
Despite the progress, the pantry has still more goals.
“I’d like to see us be able to help more seniors,” Susan Kearney said. “We also want a little more space, and to streamline the storeroom to make it easier for people to get what they need quickly and easily.”
The Kearneys say they are involved with the pantry because they wanted to give back to the community.
“It’s a good feeling to know that you are doing something to help,” Sean Kearney said. “We meet a lot of great people.”
He says that the pantry has been successful in feeding a lot of hungry mouths, but fewer people are coming for food. He cites improvements in the economy and population out-migration as reasons.
In 2014, the pantry served 4,844 families. In 2015, it was 4,339. Last year, the number was down to 3,940.
“We are really getting down to the people that really need it, although the margins for needing help and not needing help can be very thin,” Sean Kearney said. “We will be here when people need it.”
The Sanpete Pantry is located at 1080 S. Blackhawk Blvd. in Mt. Pleasant.
Call 435-462-3006 for more information, or donate your time, food or money. Information is also on the pantry’s website, www.sanpetepantry.com.