BENSON — The Community Food Pantry of Benson will be celebrating its first food distribution out of its new home Wednesday, located on the campus of Calvary Baptist Church.

The pantry’s new facility offers a number of improvements from the previous “Easy Street” location, said Carol Jenkins, a 10-year food pantry volunteer and vice-chair of the nonprofit’s board of directors.

“We now have plenty of parking space, a paved road leading into the church campus, we have air conditioning for the first time, two restrooms and a much cleaner facility to work out of,” Jenkins said. “I love this location.”

Jenkins said the food pantry has been serving the community since around 1984. Last year, 37,400 people turned to the food pantry for help with provisions.

“I hope people don’t get discouraged by the change in location,” Jenkins said. “It’s only four miles from the previous location and a much nicer facility with more space and improved access.”

In June, the food pantry was given a 30-day notice that as of July, the lease would be going up to $1,643, representing a $1,000 increase, according to the organization’s board chair, Najayyah Many Horses.

“We could not afford to pay that amount, so started searching for a new location,” she said. “When Calvary Baptist Church Pastor Dan King learned about our situation, he offered to let us lease Calvary’s former church sanctuary which they have outgrown. After their new sanctuary was built, it was being used as a youth center.”

COVID stopped the youth activities and the building has been sitting empty since.

By relocating onto the church campus, the food pantry is saving $1,000 a month on its lease. Earlier this week, volunteers were helping move and organize equipment and food supplies while working out the logistics of the first food distribution from the new site.

“We’ve been saying we’re going to start distributing out of this location on Sept. 2, so we’ve been working hard to get ready for this,” said Suzzi Wells, a four-year food pantry volunteer. “I sign people in when they start lining up in the morning. I think this is a much better location, especially for access and safety reasons,” she said.

“At the other location, there were times when we had a long line of vehicles along Fourth Street, and the police would get upset because they were concerned about safety. We’ll see how it all works out tomorrow (Wednesday) morning, but I think this is going to be a really good move for everyone.”

Once everyone is settled into the new routine, Many Horses hopes to offer other services that are tied to the food pantry.

“I couldn’t be happier about this new arrangement,” she said. “We have an excellent building to work out of in a much cleaner environment with a paved road all the way into the church property. I think the community will be pleased when they see how much nicer this is for everyone.”