How Iowa organizations, food pantries have responded to growing food insecurity
Iowans are still having a rough time accessing the food they need to survive. During the World Food Prize Foundation's 16th annual Iowa Hunger Summit held virtually this week, community leaders talked about the state of hunger across Iowa.
The summit brought together Iowa leaders from community organizations, social services, businesses and state and local governments to host panels about confronting issues of hunger and food insecurity.
During this year's conference, panelists discussed topics such as the state of hunger and health, emergency food aid and poverty alleviation.
Here are five takeaways about the state of hunger in Iowa and what some local organizations are doing to help:
300,000 Iowans are food insecure
Food insecurity is when an individual does not have consistent access to adequate nutrition to live a healthy life, according to Food Bank of Iowa CEO Michelle Book.
In Iowa, 300,000 face food insecurity and one-third of them are children, according to statistics from Food Bank of Iowa.
One in seven working Iowa households and one in six senior citizens are food insecure in Iowa, Book said. One in five Iowa homes that are food insecure has a resident who is a veteran.
Making ends meet
As the pandemic wanes and unemployment remains low, there are an abundance of jobs, but not all meet living wage standards, according to Book. A single parent with one child must gross $44,000 to make ends meet for basics, though the Iowa median income for a single-parent household is $34,000.
Food pantries: An 'explosion' of need after height of COVID-19
Food pantries across the state saw an "explosion" of need from community members for food assistance after Gov. Kim Reynolds ended the state's public health proclamation for the COVID crisis on April 1, Book said.
Iowa pantries are seeing senior citizens, those with a disability and people on fixed incomes who had not returned since before the pandemic, Book said. Recently, there has been an uptick in young people and young parents as well, she said.
The Food Bank of Iowa, which covers 55 counties across the state, served more than 1.5 million pounds of food to 135,300 people and 48,262 households in June, a record in the organization's 40-year history.
Hawkeye Harvest Food Pantry in Mason City served 2,154 people in August, according to office manager Carol Clayton, noting the pantry has not fed that many people since August 2017.
During the pandemic, the pantry averaged about 1,000 people per month, but their number of visitors has been steadily climbing since April.
"We're getting people who we haven't seen for two or three years and we're getting people who we've never seen before and people that are having trouble with ... not having jobs or other bills are accumulating," she said. "Food is getting much more expensive and they can't afford what they used to."
Urban food resources outnumber rural counterparts
The need for food assistance is similar in both metro and rural Iowa, but there is a "stark difference" between the number of services available. Food Bank of Iowa partners with 200 pantries in Polk County, Book said. The organization's other 500 partners are spread across 54 counties.
This resource gap has led the organization to put more food pantries in schools because they are the hub for many communities.
Local pantries in need of donations
Urban Dreams, a Des Moines-based nonprofit started in 1985, offers programs that provide mental health care, job training, food assistance, and more.
Executive director Izaah Knox said the food pantry, open on weekdays, draws thousands of community members from all backgrounds and ZIP codes each year.
Pantry employees ask recipients for basic information such as their ZIP code, the number of people in their household and whether they're a veteran, but Knox said there are no restrictions on who can access food and how often; they want to make the process simple.
"It's not like it's the most exciting time for somebody in their life to come and have to get food from a pantry," he said. "We try to make it as easy and as dignified as possible."
Besides the Food Bank of Iowa, Urban Dreams partners with businesses like Whole Foods, Eat Greater Des Moines, Gilroy's Kitchen, Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh, and Hiland Bakery for food contributions.
During the pandemic, the organization's food pantry stopped allowing people to "shop" the pantry and select their own food. Pantry staff now distributes food based on what is available for the day, while taking some food requests from visitors.
The organization is in the midst of moving out of its rented space in the River Bend neighborhood and into a renovated building, which it bought in last December, at 1615 Second Ave. The added space will accommodate a walk-through pantry, additional classrooms and rooms for other programs.
Knox said the organization is always looking for volunteers as well as food donations. People can drop off food donations Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 601 Forest Ave. in Des Moines.