The Ivy Bend Food Pantry celebrated the official opening of its education center Thursday.

The Ivy Bend Food Pantry celebrated the official opening of its education center Thursday.

Ivy Bend is an unincorporated semi-rural area of Morgan County between Laurie and Stover.

Located well off the beaten path, Ivy Bend has had a poor reputation related to poverty and crime issues. But in the last couple of years, caring hands and hearts in the community and in the greater lake area have been working to try to turn that reputation and reality around. That effort has centered around the Ivy Bend Food Pantry which has received new vision under the leadership of resident Charlie Myrick.

One of Myrick's major goals has been to establish an education center in addition to the food pantry.

"The only way to combat poverty is through education," said Myrick at the opening. "We're changing a community one step at a time, taking a blighted thought, a blighted place to a place where people can come and feel they are a part of a caring community. It's an exciting, wonderful thing."

The new facility will house GED classes on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and are free to anyone who is interested. It will also be used as a counseling center on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and for food preservation once the pantry gets its community garden going.

Formerly a thrift shop on-site, the building was moved from the front of the food pantry to the back and was remodeled through volunteer labor, including some of the GED students. A big supporter of the pantry, Ozark Chapel in Laurie announced the donation of two computers to the facility so that participants can take practice tests and so that the teachers can setup computerized curriculum that will help track the students strengths and weaknesses.

The building is connected to high speed internet.

There are 12 people signed up for the program with five beginning work before the building itself was completed.

GED program director Grace Smith, a retired educator with a background in special education, was glad to see the building open.

Since the GED program launched in November, she has been meeting with clients at a couple of small tables in the pantry.

"The program is not just about academics. That's a part of it, but that's not all of it," she said. "With our clients, we also have to deal with the issues they're having in life when they come in to help them focus on the education."

The atmosphere has an impact, according to Smith, who celebrated the education center as a "welcoming place."

As part of its mission to improve lives through education, the pantry organization is also offering scholarships for post-GED studies if someone is interested in continuing their education by attending a trade school or college.

"It's a life-changing preparation so they can stand on their own two feet," Smith said.

At the gathering, Myrick also announced that the pantry would be breaking ground on its next building project on May 31.

A 60-foot by 100-foot building is planned to house a new state-of-the-art food pantry and community area next to the existing food pantry space. The community center area will have a full kitchen and act as a senior center as well as space for a new program being developed to mentor and tutor the children of Ivy Bend.

The estimated cost is $300,000.

The old food pantry will then be turned into the first medical clinic in the history of Ivy Bend. Residents currently have to travel some 60 miles round trip to go to medical appointments.

At its last monthly distribution, the Ivy Bend Food Pantry served 157 families and more than 500 individuals.

The construction activities are being funded through continuing donations from residents and businesses in the region following a $22,000 anonymous donation the pantry received last fall along with a donation of land that the pantry was able to sell for more funding. The pantry also received a matching grant of $33,000 from The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri.

To help the organization provide more services in a new building, monetary donations can be made to the Ivy Bend Food Pantry, c/o Charlie Myrick, 31836 Buck Run Ridge, Stover, MO 65078, or contact Myrick at 573-569-8693 or