Teenager Korey Ziemkowsi finishes third micro pantry, Lansing’s fourth

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By Josh Bootsma

LANSING, Ill. (November 25, 2020) – At the beginning of 2020, Lansing had one micro pantry. As the year draws to a close, it now has four, thanks to 16-year-old Korey Ziemkowski and her family.

Since late August, the Lansing resident and TF South student has invested hours of time and effort to secure locations for, build, and stock three micro pantries at churches throughout the Village.

The small wooden boxes serve as storage units for people in need of food and other basics to anonymously pick up items for free. They are open to donors who want to leave food and other materials for others. Signs on the pantries read, “Take what you need. Leave what you can.”

Lansing’s food pantries are located at Mt. Zion UFL Ministries (2340 177th Street), First United Methodist Church (18420 Burnham Avenue), Bethel Church (3500 Glenwood Lansing Road), and Cornerstone Church (3440 178th Street).

Location 1: Mt. Zion UFL Ministries

The first Lansing micro pantry went up in early 2019 at Mt. Zion UFL Ministries. The pantry has served many people, according to Mt. Zion secretary Betty Burley. “Micro pantries are really important. … These are emergency food situations, open 24 hours a day, and they’re anonymous,” Burley said in October of this year. She said Mt. Zion Ministries used to make a couple dozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches daily to put in the micro pantry, and they were always gone at the end of the day.

Mt. Zion Ministries secretary Betty Burley (left) and Pastor Juan Leon stand near Lansing’s first micro pantry when it opened in early 2019. (Photo: Carrie Steinweg, 2019)

Location 2: First United Methodist Church

The pantry at First United Methodist opened in early October after Korey Ziemkowski participated in the We Are Lansing drive-thru food giveaway on August 29. Ziemkowski, who has donated to micro pantries in neighboring communities before, met Pastor Dave Price of First United Methodist at the giveaway, and he was open to the idea of a micro pantry.

“I had asked him about it and he loved the idea,” Ziemkowski said. “Then I talked to the [church’s] board members and got it all set up … I found out that we do have a church in town that loved the idea as much as we did and would be willing to help us in any way we needed.”

Ziemkowski reached out to The Guardian Group, a nonprofit based in Joliet that builds micro pantries in locations in northern Illinois. The organization came and built the micro pantry on October 8 and stocked it. The Ziemkowskis and the Lansing community have kept it stocked since then, however.

micro pantry
Korey Ziemkowski worked with leaders at First United Methodist Church to start a micro pantry there. (Photo provided)

Location 3: Bethel Church

The third Lansing micro pantry is located at Bethel Church, and opened in early November after Bethel Church reached out to the Ziemkowskis about starting it. Head Custodian Dave Schurman and another church member built the pantry and the Ziemkowski family stocked it.

“[Bethel Church] was extremely willing to help out,” Ziemkowski said, “They did the work behind it, they did the labor behind it, and I kind of did behind the scenes.”

micro pantry
Lansing’s third micro pantry is located at Bethel Church, on the east side of the building. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Location 4: Cornerstone Church

Ziemkowski was involved in every part of bringing Lansing’s newest micro pantry to life. She worked with her dad Kevin Ziemkowski to construct the pantry, using donated paint to help finish the structure. She said her aunt had used a winning lottery ticket to help pay for the plexiglass needed for the front doors of the micro pantry, and Dave Schurman had some leftover materials she and her dad were able to use. A donor paid for the remainder of the costs.

“It was a super easy project because so many people were able to donate,” Ziemkowski said.

Korey Ziemkowski (white coat) and her dad Kevin put the finishing touches on Lansing’s newest micro pantry, located at Cornerstone Church. (Photo provided)

Generosity, maintenance, and learning

“With COVID happening and not being able to be in direct contact with people, this a way that people can still help one another, but not be in the same room as them and not be exposed to anything,” Ziemkowski said in October. “I can’t wait for more people to learn about it and be able to go there as much as they need to.”

Ziemkowski said she tries to visit each pantry once per week, and has a room in her house that she uses for food storage so she can help restock the micro pantries as needed. She said staying organized, checking expiration dates, and visiting the pantries can sometimes be challenge amid her duties as a full-time student. Having connections at each of the churches who can text her if a pantry needs attention has been very helpful, she said.

Educating donors is also an aspect of the pantries that Ziemkowski has picked up on, as perishable items or items that attract rodents are not ideal, but are sometimes placed in the pantries anyway.

Other donations that Ziemkowski didn’t expect have been popular, she said. The pantry at First United Methodist Church had a donation of roughly 30 knitted hats. “I think of toiletries and stuff, but I didn’t really think of that”.

Baby rice cereal has been another donation that Ziemkowski didn’t expect. “The baby food was a really eye-opening one for me because if a child is hungry, and that’s there to provide for a parent, to provide for their child, that’s what makes it all worth it,” she said.

From left to right: Cody, Colleen, Korey, and Kevin Ziemkowski stand near the micro pantry located at Cornerstone Church. The pantry is the third the family helped bring to life, and Lansing’s fourth. (Photo provided)

Ziemkowski said that since Lansing is now largely covered by the four micro pantries, she does not have plans to start another, though if a church reached out to her, she would be willing to help.

“I’ve learned how many people are in my corner,” the 16-year-old said. “Anytime I post about the pantries on Facebook…everyone is jumping onboard.” She said she has received so much support by way of monetary and food donations. “Someone literally offered to buy me a homecoming dress because she’s so proud of me,” she said. “Right now in our community, people are so willing to help.”

Anonymous, 24-hour food access

The four micro pantries are open 24 hours every day for donors and those in need. Pick-ups and donations are anonymous.

Mt. Zion UFL Ministries is located at 2340 177th Street, First United Methodist Church is located at 18420 Burnham Avenue, Bethel Church is located at 3500 Glenwood Lansing Road, and Cornerstone Church is located at 3440 178th Street.

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