KARNAK — Summit Portable Buildings released a marketing video online earlier this year featuring the use of one of its buildings as a food pantry in a rural town. The video was intended to showcase the vast uses for portable buildings, beyond backyard storage, said Shannon Latham, a sales manager with the company.
Little did they know that it would turn into a reality for a social service agency in Karnak.
The video shows a young child dragging over a kitchen chair so he can reach into the cabinets. When he swings open the door, he finds there’s nothing in there to eat. The next scene is of him walking past a grocery store toward a gas station.
Inside, he picks up a can of Armour Vienna Sausage and then reaches into his pocket and pulls out some loose change and realizes he doesn’t have enough. As he walks out, a woman buying a bottle of iced coffee drops a $20 bill at the register. He hesitates for a moment, and then chases her to her car to return it before she drives away.
She had noticed him in the store, and is touched by his honesty in returning the money when he clearly needed something to eat. Back home, she searches for “food pantries near me” online, and her search comes up short. Flash forward and she’s sitting with a portable building sales manager looking over options and then opening a food pantry. The commercial closes with the boy walking into the food pantry with his mom. They are handed a box of food, and the lady gives him the $20 bill he had returned. They go home and stock their kitchen cabinets.
A few months after the video posted online, Latham said the company received a call from an associate with the marketing department at LP Outdoor Buildings Solutions. One of their team members had seen the video and shared it with others. The company decided they wanted to turn the concept into reality. LP Outdoor Buildings Solutions, headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, provides buildings supplies to Summit Portable Buildings, which is based in Farmington, Missouri, and operates a corporate sales lot in Metropolis.
The two companies worked out an agreement: LP Building Solutions would donate the building materials, and Summit Portable Buildings would cover labor and transportation costs.
Latham was also charged with finding out if there was an individual or social service organization in the area interested in running a food pantry. Eventually, he connected with Denna Williams, executive director of Shawnee Development Corporation, Inc. As it often goes in Southern Illinois, it didn’t take long for the two to realize they knew some of the same people. Latham grew up in Olmsted, just about 10 miles south of Karnak, where the community action agency’s main offices are located. His brother’s father-in-law sits on the board of Shawnee Development Corporation.
It just so happened that Shawnee Development Corporation, which provides a range of social services to low-income families in Illinois’ lower seven counties, had a need for extra food pantry storage. “It seemed to fit,” Latham said, of how all the pieces came together. “It’s just really cool to be able to help out the community you grew up in.”
The new facility will provide a central space to store food and household items. From there, supplies will be sent out as needed to the three food pantries that the agency operates in Anna, Elizabethtown and Golconda, she said.
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Williams said the building’s location next to its administrative offices on Highway 169 will also provide extra visibility, helping to bring attention to the need for food donations in the region. She hopes people will see the sign on the building and ask how they can help. The extra space will also aid in the collection of other needed items such as toilet paper, shampoo, and adult and children’s diapers, she said.
Many of the clients served by her agency's food pantries are seniors living on fixed incomes. Most qualify for only small amounts of food assistance, generally less than $20 monthly, under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, she said. The boxes of staple items they receive at the food pantries help stretch their grocery budgets. The agency also serves numerous families with young children. In total, some 700 families seek out food assistance monthly between the three pantries.
The temperature-controlled building is valued at about $10,000.
Williams said she was touched by the donated building, which was delivered on Wednesday.
“To me, it means that people really are seeking out ways to help each other in our communities,” she said. “Southern Illinois is known for that — that we help our own. And we’re just glad to be a part of that.”
While the people in the commercial are actors, the food insecurity depicted is a harsh reality for many families throughout the region, she said.
The fact that it was filmed in Southern Illinois made it really hit home for some people in the region. The young boy walks past Big John grocery on his way to the Metro Speedy Mart, both businesses in Metropolis. It was produced by Dylan Street Cinema and Photo, which until recently, shared office space with Summit Portable Buildings at its Metropolis location. The idea was hatched over a meal at Huddle House more than a year ago between Street, Latham and another friend.
“They decided they wanted a commercial, and they wanted it to be a heartfelt commercial,” Street said.
They talked about it a little more and “Shannon (Latham) just says, ‘Guys, I have a crazy idea, just hear me out for a second.’” He outlined a script around a food pantry not too far off from the final version. Then they got to work refining it. When it was finalized, Street shared it on his Facebook page, and it generated dozens of comments, some from people asking where the food pantry was located, and others saying that it touched their hearts.
Still, Street said that he didn't expect what followed.
“It really is like something you hear about on TV. It’s kind of surreal when it happens based on your work,” Street said. “It’s very exciting and I hope it impacts a lot of people’s lives.”