The Bellevue Masonic Lodge recently donated $2,000 to the Bellevue Bread Basket to help those in need over the holidays.

The Masons have been donating to the organization annually for many years, but this year the donation increased, thanks to a donor who left farmland to the longtime community service organization.

“We are thankful to be able to make this donation,” said Masons Secretary John Pitlo of Belllevue. “It’s something we do to serve the community, along with our annual scholarships for both schools.”

The Bellevue Bread Basket has helped thousands of local families over the past three decades.

It all started back in February of 1984 when the Rev. Russell Snyder, then Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue, organized the local food pantry in conjunction with the other churches in town and dubbed it the “Bellevue Bread Basket.”

At the time, the Iowa farm economy was suffering and unemployment was still relatively high.

Today, the Bellevue Bread Basket is coordinated by Chuck Ernst and several longtime volunteers including Willie Felderman, and is located in the lower level of the Bellevue Community Center on west State Street.

It is open every third Thursday from 1 to 4 p.m.

According to Ernst, the number of households helped by the Bread Basket has varied over the years in accordance with the season and economic conditions in the area.

“We have always found a higher level of participation during the holiday season,” said Ernst, who noted that the average number of families seeking help ranges anywhere from 30 to 65 each month, while in December and January, that number can increase to 90 or 100 families. “The idea is to provide food on a temporary basis to the unemployed, welfare recipients who receive a minimal amount of assistance, the elderly and families in which there has been a recent death, serious illness or domestic problem.”

Ernst added that victims of fire, flood or tornado would also qualify for food assistance at the Bellevue Bread Basket.

The Bread Basket is governed by a steering committee comprised of members from each of the local churches, First Presbyterian, St. Joseph’s Catholic and St. John Lutheran.

Most of the food distributed is obtained through Stephen’s Food Bank in Dubuque for 16 cents per pound. Supplies are paid for mostly through local donations, as well as some in-kind donations of food from local stores.

Area schools, businesses, churches, local manufacturers and civic organizations from a wide area contribute annually. Of course, there is also the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train which stops in Bellevue every other year. During the 2016 stop, the event raised $4,000 for the Bread Basket.

“It is very encouraging and appreciated to receive support from such a widespread and varied amount of local resources,” said Ernst. We thank all who have helped, or will help in the future to assist in our efforts to provide food for the less fortunate in our area.

Those served by the Bellevue Bread Basket include the adjoining communities of Green Island, Sabula, Miles, Springbrook, Andrew, La Motte, St. Donatus and St. Catherine. The organization uses federal income guidelines to determine eligibility for families that qualify.

Other food banks in the area are located in Preston, Maquoketa and Dubuque.