CLINTON — Information, Referral and Assistance Services began moving into the former Salvation Army church building this week.

The IRAS office and the Associate Benevolent Society’s store and food pantry should be moved in by the end of the month, Executive Director Regan Michaelsen said Wednesday.

Volunteers unloaded Information Referral furniture Wednesday at 219 First Ave. while other volunteers took donations at the Benevolent Society across the alley. The organizations recently legally merged and will merge physically this month.

Information Referral began in 1979, Michaelsen said in a presentation to the Clinton City Council Tuesday evening. “We started as pretty much a referral ... agency,” she said, but the nonprofit saw other needs in the community and began branching out.

“We started helping with utilities, housing, things of that nature,” said Michaelsen. “Today we provide all kinds of assistance.”

The organization receives no federal or state money, Michaelsen said. “We’re United Way. We do a lot of fundraising. I write a lot of little grants throughout the year.” This gives Information Referral flexibility as to how best to help people in the community, she said.

Information Referral is currently focused on housing, said Michaelsen. “Right now we’re housing a lot of people in the hotels because of COVID,” she said. COVID restrictions don’t allow congregate housing because of the possible spread of the virus.

“Since October we’ve housed hundreds of people,” she said. “We work with Econo Lodge and the Travel Inn.”

Information Referral receives money from MercyOne’s Med Tree campaign each holiday season to help people pay for prescription medications, Michaelsen said.

Information Referral administers Pantries United, which formerly coordinated four local food pantries, but only two are still in operation, said Michaelsen. They are the Gateway Area Community Center’s pantry and the pantry operated by the Associate Benevolent Society, which has merged with Information Referral.

The largest program administered by Information Referral is Backpack Buddies, said Michaelsen. It’s a program that gives backpacks of food to children who might go without food over the weekend. The children who need the service are identified by teachers and counselors, Michaelsen said.

“We serve about 180 kids every weekend throughout the duration of the school year,” Michaelsen said. The food is pre-packed from River Bend Food Bank in Davenport for about 88 cents a pound, or about $5 per bag, she said.

Clausen trucking company picks up the packs and stores them at its warehouse, and Information Referral volunteers take the packs to the schools each week, Michaelsen said.

Michaelsen has directed the Benevolent Society as well as Information Referral since before the merger. Benevolent has been around for over 100 years, Michaelsen said. “Everything there is free.”

People donate all kinds of things — clothing, appliances, furniture, medical supplies. “Anything you could think of, people are dropping off, and everything we get is free to the public,” Michaelsen said.

“Anybody who has a need, they can come in once a month [and] take whatever they need out of the store.”

Benevolent also has a food pantry. Previously, people had to get a referral from Information Referral, Michaelsen said. She’s not sure how that process will work now that the organizations are one.

The empty gymnasium in the First Avenue building will soon be full of furniture donations, and an adjacent room will become the food pantry, Michaelsen said Wednesday.

The building includes a new kitchen, which opens up more possibilities for the organization, Michaelsen said.

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