"Pop-Up Pantry CR" organizer plants seeds of growth in community


    Saige Turner (left) and August Stolba plant seed in growing trays for Feed Iowa First on Tuesday, February 12, 2019.

    Building. Digging. Planting. Growing.

    It's how Feed Iowa First helps feed the Corridor - and Saige Turner is one of the volunteers leading the way.

    "I sell real estate," she says about her full-time job, "and any time I get slow in real estate, I'm just...down here playing in the dirt, basically."

    "I'm, like, becoming addicted to finding causes I care about and helping in any way I can," she laughs.

    Saige is the driving force behind "Pop-Up Pantry CR" - an initiative that started in January to help feed hundreds of students on free-or-reduced lunch plans in the Cedar Rapids Community School District that may miss meals because of snow days.

    "This isn't somewhere else," Saige says. "This isn't somebody else's problem. This is our community and we need to care about it."

    When a friend made a suggestion about helping students last month, Saige made a plan.

    "'Let's try to get something coordinated by Friday,'" she remembers being told, "and this was like Saturday morning. I kind of took it and ran with it."

    "'If we get food to them by Friday, they'll have been hungry for two weeks," Saige recalls thinking. "'That's not acceptable. We have to have this going by Monday.'"

    That weekend, she invested $250 of her own money into food and supplies and started getting the word out to friends, including Andy Stewart.

    "She told me, 'I'll be there in 20 minutes. We're gonna go do a Sam's Club run. I'll explain later,'" Andy says. "20 minutes later, we're at Sam's Club with a cart full - and we're ready to pop up."

    "From there, it just kinda caught fire."

    Akwi Nji helped facilitate the plans as communications director for the school district. She also taught and coached Saige when she was a student at Washington High School.

    "It just so happens that Saige is one of those people who says, 'You know what? Let's just figure it out,'" Akwi says.

    Saige figured it out, despite not having children in the district - or children at all.

    "She doesn't have a personal investment in it except for that she's personally invested in her community," Akwi says, "and that's pretty awesome."

    Building. Digging. Planting. Growing.

    It's how Saige Turner works to pay it forward.

    "It's kind of like the fishes and loaves deal in the Bible," she says with excitement. "I hate to compare it - but there was nothing we could do with what we had. It wasn't going to go far at all. We just had to ask for help."

    Feed Iowa First is asking for help too. They're looking for volunteers all year long - including this week. They need help building 200 seed trays for the 2019 growing season. They'll be gathering at 1506 10th Street SE (the Cargill building) on Tuesday, February 19 at 4:00 to start the work. The event is posted on Facebook.

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