Ozark Food Pantry President Carmelita Davidson describes 2020 as “our most challenging year ever, but also the most inspiring in terms of community generosity.” A pandemic that with every surge leaves more jobless, increasing demand for the pantry’s services, while also creating challenges for volunteers to serve. And in the midst of it – there were electrical issues at the food pantry at 1 Sunset Park in Festus. The electrical problems have been resolved thanks to a donation from the Electrical Connection, a partnership of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1 and the St. Louis Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA).
“I’m almost in tears because the challenges have brought out the best in our community,” noted Davidson. “I am so grateful to the Electrical Connection, IBEW and NECA for correcting our electrical issues, ensuring the safety of our volunteers and those we serve.”
The electrical problems were typical of organizations operating on a shoestring budget in an aging facility. Over the years, piecemeal repairs were made by those unskilled and unfamiliar with building codes. It included faulty wiring and issues with circuit breakers tripping in a facility that needed to power 14 freezers, three refrigerators and a walk in cooler.
Gary Bourd, who works at the food pantry, brought the issues to the attention of the Electrical Connection by IBEW Business Representative Chuck DeMoulin. He notified IBEW Business Manager Frank Jacobs who collaborated with St. Louis NECA Executive Vice President Doug Martin on a plan to donate Electrical Connection-member services to upgrade the electrical systems.
On Dec. 10, 2020, IBEW-signatory contractor Pioneer Electric made the repairs. It also donated and installed light fixtures and laid the groundwork for the addition of a backup generator that the Ozark Food Pantry hopes to have in 2021. “Everyone at Pioneer is familiar with the great work that Ozark Food Pantry does every year, so it was an easy call to pitch in and help,” said Dave Stanley, president of Pioneer Electric.
Pioneer is a commercial and industrial electrical contractor based in Festus with an office in Cape Girardeau. It has performed a variety of projects including several electrical upgrades for Taco Bell in St. Louis, southeast Missouri and Illinois. In addition to Ozark Food Pantry, the firm has also helped the Arnold Food Pantry with its electrical issues.
Since the pandemic began roiling the economy back in March, demand at the Ozark Food Pantry has shot up 30 percent. It now serves more than 100 families a week and more than 1,000 families to date this year. “Normally, we serve about 850 families in a five zip code area in Jefferson County,” noted Davidson. “We’ve blown passed that and have been serving families in nearby counties, basically anyone with a need for food. Fixing the electric issues resolves a huge issue that has been weighing on us all year.”
The food pantry normally has about 20 volunteers, but Davidson says that has been trimmed to 10 on any given day to conform to Covid-19 safety protocols. Wearing masks and gloves and following CDC guidelines, the volunteers not only distribute food, but also disinfect the food packages and constantly wipe down surfaces and the storage area.
To donate food or money to the Ozark Food Pantry call 636-933-9974 or visit its website at www.ozarkfoodpantry.com.
Through its Electrical Connection partnership, IBEW/NECA provides safe and reliable electrical construction, maintenance, repair and replacement services across Missouri, the nation and the world. Learn more at www.electricalconnection.org.