Vermillion got a digital treat recently as Codylee Riedmann, recently appointed new director of the Vermillion Food Pantry, was interviewed on the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce and Development’s virtual community coffee hour broadcast.
The interview was conducted by Nate Welch, the CEO of VCDC.
Riedmann, a second-year University of South Dakota Law Student has lived in Vermillion for nine years, “serving the community food and dreams” as he put it at establishments such as Red Steakhouse, Silk Road and Carey’s over the years.
“After a while I decided to train my mind to more of a civically minded serving,” Riedmann said. “So how do you take that experience in food service and make it civil service, well you work at a food pantry apparently is the perfect way to do it.”
Riedmann has had his hands full learning the ropes as well as adapting to the pandemic situation.
Precautionary measures include keeping the more vulnerable volunteer base scheduled mornings with the younger crowd coming in later when they would have more contact with customers.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff going, just kind of working towards keeping everybody safe in terms of our volunteers and our customers,” Riedmann said. “It’s been quite a process and lots of learning over the last month, that’s for sure.”
In an effort to observe as many safety standards as possible, Riedmann said changes had to be made to the way food was selected.
“Normally a couple of years ago once they had moved into this building, the community connection center, we had moved toward a client choice format for the pantry where people could shop, make their own choices on personal hygiene products, food, you name it,” Riedmann said. “Due to COVID obviously it’s been a little more difficult to even consider that. So what we’ve moved towards is a boxing process.”
According to Riedmann, customers get a pre-made box depending on how many people are in the family and also receive a supplemental box with products based on their answers to a questionnaire.
“So we’re still trying to give people as much of an option as possible but the difficulty is of course that we can’t always get exactly what you’d like,” Riedmann said. “We’re learning how to serve people.”
Riedmann reported on the pantry’s efforts to make the system more efficient including developing a google form allowing people to make their selections digitally as well as supporting deliveries through Vermillion Public Transit.
According to Riedmann, donations are still coming in despite the pandemic.
“It’s kind of amazing,” Riedmann said. “We’ve definitely been seeing a lot of the generosity of the community. I’m not going to say don’t donate but you guys have been awesome. The community really has been supporting us.”
Riedmann stated that pasta, rice and especially household cleaners are always welcome.
“We also need laundry detergent and other items that people who are on the SNAP benefits aren’t normally qualified for to buy at the store,” Riedmann said. “We can hope to provide them here because you know you’re limited to food when you go to the store for SNAP so you want to try to give some of the other options more.”
Riedmann also reported working with the Vermillion Area Farmers Market to provide fresh produce as well.
Riedmann described what people can expect when they pick up their food.
“Our process that we’re working through right now is customers pull up to the front of the community connection center and then they either call a number or we’ll come out and take your order,” Riedmann said. “Just trying to figure out exactly what you need, any dietary concerns.”
Riedmann said those running the food pantry are always asking themselves how to better help and serve people in a continuous commitment to community service.
“Kelsey Collier-Wise has really built an amazing institution here,” Riedmann said. “It amazed me because I’ve been here for eight years and I didn’t know about the backpack program...I’m finally finding out about all of these organizations existing. It’s amazing, I’ve loved it.”
Riedmann treated the audience to a virtual tour of the pantry, showing people what to expect once the public is once again allowed inside.
“We have a lot of volunteers that we want to work to protect the health of so we probably won’t be opening here until the fall,” Riedmann said. “We’re not really sure which direction we’re going to go.”
Riedmann was able to show equipment such as coolers and freezers set up to make building orders as efficient as possible and serve as many customers as possible.
One challenge is making sure donations are used and little goes to waste.
“We’re lucky enough to have a good relationship with HyVee and WalMart in town and they’re willing to work with us and provide us with a lot of the produce and materials that would be harder for our customers to come by sometimes,” Riedmann said. “So it’s really important that we try to push that...We definitely want to be a zero waste.”
Riedmann said he will sometimes post on Facebook about bread and other perishables that need to be used.
“It’s just generally trying to push that stuff without wasting too much,” Riedmann said. “I hate throwing anything away.”
Most is used in one way or another, even using moldy bread or bad produce as goat feed.
“If it can be used somewhere, use it,” Riedmann said. “Composting, anything like that we’d be interested in that. So if people have ideas and they want to reach out to me I’m more than interested in hearing about it.”
Also as part of the zero-waste effort the food pantry will share resources with groups like the Welcome Table which is currently doing take-out meals.
Riedmann also showed the impressive kitchen and storage area.
“It’s truly an amazing space and I can’t wait to see what it’s going to be like once we resume normalcy,” Riedmann said. “Just a lot of really good things going on here.”
Though Riedmann said he has seen an increase of individuals served, there is always room for more.
“Last month in the month of May we served about 600 individuals,” Riedmann said. “We get new families quite a bit. We have more than enough to serve everyone. There shouldn’t be a stigma for asking for help. There’s nothing wrong with needing and we all need sometimes. I need. We want people to know we’re here to help you, there’s more than enough to go around. Don’t be afraid to ask.”
According to Riedmann, any Clay County resident is able to come and be served.
“You just need a form of ID or lease agreement or utility bill,” Riedmann said. “Anything to show that proof of residency and we’re happy to serve you. That includes students that remain here over the summer. We’re trying to reach out to those different groups and let them know that you’re welcome here, we want to help you, and so I want to see that 600 number go up to 700 next month, you know just keep helping people.”
Riedmann stated that though traditional services can be received once a month, if there is a need, people are welcome to come in a second time.
“It may not be the same full box but I always have fresh produce, I always have bananas, bread, things to give away,” Riedmann said. “It may not be quite as big or anything but I want to make sure you walk out of here with something.”
Riedmann said that seeing the generosity of the Vermillion community is what got him into the civil service area in the first place, and he encourages the community to keep being generous.
“We’ll never say no to help here,” Riedmann said. “I’ll never say no to money, I’ll never say no to supplies. Do consider some other groups in town that could possibly use those resources as well. I know that the Vermillion Area Farmers Market donations and money hasn’t been as good as it has been in previous years. If you consider donating to us you might want to consider donating to them as well because it does benefit us and impact us as well. We just want to see everything growing in this town...Keep helping people, that’s all I’ve got to say. Never stop and give generously.”
Riedmann said anyone is welcome to add him on Facebook and message questions or call the pantry directly at (605) 670-3409.
Those interested in volunteering are welcome to visit unitedwayofvermillion.org/volunteer.