MIDLOTHIAN — Friday's the busiest day at the Midlothian Senior Citizen's Food Pantry, but next Friday may be its last day in business.
For seven years, the pantry has distributed meat and canned and baked goods to seniors from a complex of small rooms in a little-used school in Midlothian. Founder Victoria Massey says she has 441 seniors signed up to receive food. She said most of those have more people, often grandchildren, living in their homes.
The Midlothian Independent School District, which owns the former elementary school where the pantry is located, is in effect the landlord. And the landlord says the Pantry must come up with $41,000 a year in rent or leave the premises.
In a December letter to Massey, MISD assistant superintendent Teresa Thomas wrote the Pantry must clean up its documentation with the IRS as a non-profit, re-apply to be housed in the school and acquire a $1-million dollar insurance policy. Massey says Thomas also told her the Pantry would have to begin paying $36,000 in rent, which Thomas later raised to $41,000.
MISD was closed on Friday, and unavailable for comment, but employees at the Pantry mentioned the district was prevented from releasing school assets without compensation, which would include allowing the pantry to operate rent free.
"It's awful," said Robin Morales, as she stood in line for food on Friday. "It's going to affect my family. I'm on a fixed income. I pick up food for my father, he's on a fixed income."
Sard McClendon, an 88-year-old volunteer who works at the pantry every day, says a community of seniors will sorely miss it.
"There's a certain amount of people who won't have enough to eat because they really do need it," McClendon said.
Susie Riley finds it all a bit incomprehensible that MISD needs to charge a non-profit rent, when it just built a shiny new high school. "This is just a small portion of a mostly unused building," Riley says. "And to take that from the people that need it so much is almost an insult."
Vicki Massey first operated the pantry from a trailer and moved to vacant space at a funeral home before nestling into three back rooms at the school building.
"I think we have to give unto Caesar what is Caesar's, but surely we can have some technicality that would feed 441 of their voting, tax-paying seniors," she said with a grin.
As the pantry took root, it made improvements in the rooms it uses as well as the parking lot. Local businesses pitched in to pave the parking lot, build a loading dock and an awning. MISD has not verbalized plans to compensate the pantry for those improvements.
The Pantry has until January 15 to meet the school district's demands.