Aurora Knights of Columbus kettle corn sales support increase food pantry demand

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Lynn Grubbs, who helps operate the food pantry and retail shop at the Volunteers of America in Aurora, displays some of the parishable foods the Knights of Columbus at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church were able to provide because of a successful kettle corn sales season.

Sales of kettle corn last summer and fall by the Knights of Columbus at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Aurora has continued to support in the food pantry at the Volunteers of America into 2021.

When the COVID-19 pandemic postponed, and in most cases, cancelled, many of the events where the Knights sold their kettle corn, the membership had to look for an alternative way to raise money for charity. The idea to offer a drive-through booth in the church parking lot for sales was crafted and executed. Kettle corn sales are the main fund-raising arm of the 81-member council.

Although the Knights in Council 14186 were confident in their idea, it was the public that kept the booth open every week through summer and most of fall. That support has allowed the organization to earmark $5,000 thus far for the pantry. That is because of the public’s generous and continuous purchase of the Knights’ kettle corn in 2020, council leadership said, with the plan to help the pantry through summer 2021 with additional monies from the kettle corn sales.

“We were overwhelmed by what we saw,” said Grand Knight Dan Rondini. “We’re a charity organization. We know we have a good product.” What started out as a plan to try the drive through for a month or so, extended the once-a-week operation to be popping through the end of October. The booth is staffed completely by volunteers.

Rondini said the organization could not have done as much good with out the public support of the booth. Since fall, the Knights have been providing at least $500 a month in assistance to the pantry when it needed it most. Plans are now being made to offer the drive-through kettle-corn booth at the church this year, he said, and dates and times are to be determined.

The food pantry was impacted in several ways when the pandemic was declared, said Lynn Grubbs, who helps operate the pantry and the resale shop at the Volunteers of America. People lost their jobs and more and more people found themselves unable to buy groceries they needed. Grubbs has been at Volunteers for 15 years and she said the Knights’ help came at the right time.

Knight Mike Shdylowski just finished filling the refrigerator at the Volunteers of America's food pantry in Aurora with meats and frozen foods purchased with proceeds of the sale of kettle corn last year. Mike does a the food shopping for the Knights to give to the food bank.

“It has obviously up ticked with the state of the economy and everything,” Grubbs said. With the pandemic, there has been increase in need, with many people coming for the first time. It can be difficult for people to admit they need help and many are reluctant to do so, she said. “It’s quite humbling.”

Grubbs also said social distancing guidelines coupled with the health risk forced to food pantry, as well as many local organizations, to forgo the use of volunteers to help do many of the jobs they would perform, such as shopping pantry staples, like laundry and dish soap, that many on assistance may not be able to afford.

Every week, the Knights contact the pantry to see what they may be short on, especially perishable food-wise, said Jeff Jackson, who manages the food pantry and the resale shop at Volunteers. The Knights then shop for the needed items and drop them off, he said.

While the pantry is always stocked with canned goods and non-perishables, meats, frozen foods, dairy items and fresh fruit and vegetables can be expensive and are often are requested by those who use the panty, Jackson said. Things like milk, eggs, apples and berries are things the Knights are able to purchase with the kettle corn sale funds, he said.

“A lot of the focus has been on the perishable items and the hygiene items,” Jackson said. The pantry typically serves about 70 families a month, but he said with the pandemic, they have seen an increase in need by about 30 percent.

He said the public support of the Knights’ kettle corn booth and the shopping help from the organization came at the right time. “We have been fortunate and the needs have been met,” he said. Having a variety of things to choose from is important, as the pantry is often open to meet the needs of the people that use the service, who may not have reliable transportation to get to the pantry or face other obstacles.

“We’re open six days a week. One day we could get 10 people and the next day we could get none,” Jackson said. Several times, the Knights donated kettle corn to the pantry, and that turned out to a popular item, as it gave people a treat to look forward to, he said. “People loved it. It was something different for families to have.”

People continue to help the pantry, he said, with one person donating the money from a federal stimulus check to buy gift cards to be used by the pantry to buy food or hand out to those that need them. Jackson said if people would like to include them in their regular shopping trip, they can call 330-348-0830 to see if there is something the pantry needs that they have trouble getting.