Springfield food pantry to move to new location

Open Hands Free Pantry to operate from local church

A southside Springfield food pantry will have a fresh start as well as fresh items, moving to a new location to help counter the area’s food desert challenges.

Open Hands Free Pantry, formerly the Open Hands Free Store, will now operate from Covenant United Methodist Church, 529 W. Johnny Lytle Ave., with its grand opening 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 8. It will be open from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and 2 to 4 p.m. Thursdays and offer food boxes, including fresh produce and hygiene items for no charge.

Started in 2008 and operating for the past 10 years from Southern Village Shopping Center as the Open Hands Free Store, it offered food items along with clothing, toys and small household items, and served 110 families and 200 people a week at its peak.

“We were unique. Our customers told us we were like Walmart,” said Sharon Doyle, co-president of the organization.

Then the pandemic hit in 2020 at a particularly bad time when the southside Kroger closed and lockdowns forced the Free Store’s closure in March.

By the time the store reopened in July, health guidelines made it difficult. The 15-foot-wide and 50-foot long space allowed only seven people maximum in at a time and clothing items couldn’t be offered.

If that wasn’t enough, the ceiling developed a leak and the heating and air unit was breaking down.

A bigger space was needed and Covenant United Methodist was the right fit. Although the church has a small congregation, the partnership would work to both groups’ advantage.

“We had to redefine what we did,” Doyle said. “The Open Hands Food Pantry is striving to become a unique pantry. We thought this would be a good deal for both of us.”

The store closed its doors on May 20.

The pantry will specialize in canned foods and fresh produce, covered by a Springfield Foundation grant for operating expenses. Doyle is pleased that new partnerships are helping with other areas.

Community Health Foundation is sponsoring hygiene products, including soaps, toothbrushes, toothpaste, toilet paper and other items. Food and hygiene products will be purchased from Second Harvest Food Bank.

Although the pantry won’t have clothing or other items, a partnership with Goodwill Industries will allow visitors a $5 voucher to be used at area Goodwill stores for such things.

There’s another aspect that Doyle hopes will follow from the previous location – socialization. She said there was always a mutual special feeling between customers and volunteers.

“Our volunteers have love in their hearts and a caring attitude in filling the bags,” she said. “This completes our whole mission. What we do is unique, and we want to be successful and are excited about it.”

For more information, call 937-323-5815.

About the Author