Food at First offers free meals no questions asked, food pantry

Days before Thanksgiving, prep work begins at Food at First as the organization prepares to serve an expected 800 free meals.

The Ames-based nonprofit, located at the First Christian Church at 611 Clark Ave., relies on approximately 250 volunteers to prepare and serve the annual holiday celebration.

Turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin wedges — all made from scratch — will be served for First’s 36th annual Thanksgiving meal. There will even be tofurki available for vegetarians.

Guests can eat in the Food at First dining room, pick up takeout or even call for delivery from 11:30am to 1pm on Thursday, November 23.

The organization’s executive director, Patty Yoder, encourages people to call 515-344-4357 as soon as possible to get on the delivery list.

Food at First offers a free hot meal every day

The Food at First kitchen is always bustling with activity.

Preparations for the big holiday meal are underway, even as Food at First continues its other day-to-day efforts of providing a hot meal every day of the year. The organization also welcomes people to its non-perishable food warehouse three days a week.

“Magic happens in our kitchen every day,” Yoder said. “We serve food 365 days a year, regardless of the weather.”

Food at First even served food on August 10, 2020, the day a derecho knocked out power in the Ames area.

“We just found a way to do it,” she said.

Non-Perishable Food Pantry, Free Meals Are ‘No Questions Asked’

Food at First operates as a not-for-profit non-participatory organization. Although it is housed in the First Christian Church, it is not part of the church.

Yoder said the program is donation-based.

Individuals, families, organizations and businesses donate food to Food at First. Volunteers act as “watchmen” and collect donated food from places like Sam’s Club, Walmart and Iowa State University.

Other volunteers organize food in the pantry, which includes produce, dairy and meat. There is also a wealth of perishable items.

“There are a few unique things in our food pantry. No questions asked,” Yoder said. “Everyone is welcome. It does not matter what. There are no documents. There are no forms to fill out. We don’t care where you live or how much money you make. If you are hungry, come. You don’t even have to have an ID.”

The number of visits is also not limited.

“You can come to the pantry any time it’s open,” Yoder said. “You can come to the meal every day.”

Guests can hand-pick items from their pantry, reducing waste at home, Yoder said, unlike other operations that hand out predetermined allotments.

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Food at First depends on hundreds of volunteers

With the food pantry open three days a week and hot meals served daily,

Food at First relies heavily on community volunteers to help serve the daily meals and run the food pantry three times a week.

A group from the Catholic Church of St. Cecilia was working in the kitchen on November 7th. Longtime Food at First volunteer Marianne Towdy stocked the shelves of the food pantry.

“The more you volunteer, the more you love volunteering,” she said. “The people you meet here are really great.”

At Marian’s encouragement, husband Francis Toadie also got involved. Works as a picker. The work he does for this organization parallels the efforts of the team at St. Cecilia’s Care for Creation, which is a joint project with the Catholic Church of St. Thomas Aquinas.

“We’re looking at how we can improve the environment,” he said. “And one of the ways we can do that is by not throwing food away. It helps people and also keeps food from going to waste, which is part of the much bigger picture of what we’re trying to do.”

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Ronna Faaborg covers business and the arts for the Ames Tribune. Contact her at [email protected].

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