BENSON — The Community Food Pantry of Benson recently received two $10,000 grants, funding that will go towards a couple of projects the organization needs.

One grant comes through a combined $10,000 donation from the Benson Hospital and Benson Rotary Club, while the second $10,000 is an Albertsons-Safeway award.

Food pantry secretary Pat Sepulveda-Myers outlined some of the improvements the organization is experiencing since moving to its new location at the Calvary Baptist Church campus last September.

“Thanks to these generous donations, we’re able to purchase items that we need, make equipment repairs and supplement the food supplies that we use for our distributions,” said Sepulveda-Myers. “The old location was cramped and dirty, and there was little or no room for people to meet and hold discussions. We were fortunate to get this $10,000 grant from the hospital and Rotary, which has allowed us to pay for a cement pad that we needed for our forklift to work.”

The pantry also used the grant to purchase tables and chairs used by board members for meetings. Expandable room dividers were purchased to provide a more formal location for meetings.

Pantry vice president Carol Jenkins now has a desk she uses for paperwork.

“I’ve been a volunteer since 2008, and this is the first time I’ve had a desk,” Jenkins said.

So far this year the pantry has distributed 6,500 food boxes, which is up from last year, she added.

“One of the things we’re able to do is purchase food that will give families a meal, rather than an assortment of random food items,” Jenkins said. “It’s especially nice during the holidays when we like to provide people with the products they need for a traditional holiday meal.”

The $10,000 Albertsons-Safeway grant is earmarked for repairs to one of the pantry’s large commercial refrigerators, something Sepulveda-Myers believes may be a bit expensive.

BJ Drilling donated a printer to the pantry, as well as T-shirts for all the volunteers.

“We’re very grateful for their support,” Sepulveda-Myers said. “We desperately needed a printer, and having the T-shirts is a big morale builder for our volunteers.”

One of the board members paid local muralist Doug Quarles to paint the pantry truck, representing another improvement.

Former food pantry volunteer and one of the organization’s big supporters, Scott Olson, is the Benson Walmart store manager.

“We donate to the pantry on a daily basis, through the normal processes that we have in the store,” he said. “We also work with them on a yearly basis, usually toward the holidays as far as getting them grant money.”

Walmart also provides such supplies as trash bag liners and meat thermometers, and helps with special requests, he said.

“The community has really come together in support of the pantry,” said volunteer Jason Zibart, Benson Hospital community development specialist. “I think because of the pandemic, this year’s distribution numbers are considerably higher than in past years. Through collaboration and partnerships, we’ve been able to meet the higher demand.”

To date, the food pantry has 29 volunteers, but eight are snowbirds that will be leaving soon, Jenkins said.

“We want to get the word out that we’ll be needing more volunteers to assist with our Wednesday distribution,” she noted.

As a food pantry board member and Benson Rotarian, Glenn Nichols said he’s pleased to be part of the pantry because of all it does to support the community.

“Along with the weekly food distribution, our board President Najayyah Many Horses teaches monthly cooking classes. We’re also in the process of organizing a resource center where we’ll be giving people information about different social services they may need.”

The classes emphasize safe food handling while offering recipes using the food products people receive through the weekly distribution.

“I think the cooking classes are one of the best things the pantry could do,” Olson said. “They’re a great addition to what we offer here. If you’re taught different ways to prepare food items, it encourages you to make good use of them.”

The free classes are offered the third Friday of each month from 4 to 6 p.m. and include a guest speaker. Reservations are required, as seating is limited.

“I attribute our food pantry’s success to great collaboration from all the individuals and community organizations that work together in support of the people we serve,” Many Horses said. “We’re fortunate to have such generous community support.”