Ashley McIntosh and her 8-month-old son, Jayden Watkins, are helped by volunteer Diana Gronberg as they get food at the House of Hope food pantry.

The pantry, at 100 E. Second St., opened to the public for the first time Tuesday. Gronberg, a volunteer from St. John's United Church of Christ, is one of 92 volunteers from area churches who are helping with the program.

House of Hope is the first program of the Clearinghouse of Jefferson County to be open to the public. Gleaners Food Bank and Walmart are partnering with House of Hope.

To use the food pantry, a visitor must be a county resident. Once inside, the visitor is connected with a guided shopper and has access to information on various local nonprofits, education opportunities and social service organizations.

Molly Dodge, Clearinghouse coordinator, said House of Hope will compile data on each visitor to better judge the local assistance needs by demographic. The group plans to release its findings.

"That's one of the big things Jefferson County really needs," Dodge said.

The pantry will be open Tuesday from 5 to 8 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. The other weekdays will be used as intake days.

The first floor of the Clearinghouse - which will have various nonprofits, faith-based organizations and social service groups - will be renovated later this year and opened to public early next year.

The Clearinghouse Project is a program of River Valley Resources.

(Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)