We need to combat food insecurity



On average, Northeast Iowa Food Bank serves 350 thousand meals per month through their programs. Many of those are students, families, children and neighbors.

Barb Prather, Guest Columnist

Editor’s note: Barb Prather is  the  Executive Director of Northeast Iowa Food Bank. 

Food shouldn’t be an impossible choice. This is a bold statement, but very truthful. For the generalpopulation, we take  when we get home from school, work or play. And we will have a choice of what to eat. But in northeast Iowa, for over 31,000 people, food insecurity is a reality, and they do not have a choice of what to eat when they get home at the end of the day. For those food insecure, daily, food is the impossible choice, along with whether they can pay their rent, utilities, and even childcare bills. When we surveyed those using our pantry, 65 percent reported they struggled paying their transportation costs this past year and half cited they were unable to pay their utility bill. Because for whatever reason they do not have the resources to pay them. Half of those we served are on Social Security. 

Some people are working two and three jobs; still, others are affected by medical bills and loss of income; and some grandparents end up taking in their grandchildren-which they never expect to. 

As a result, people reach out to places like the Northeast Iowa Food Bank (NEIFB) or one of our many partners, to get the additional food assistance that they need. Why? Because their income does not allow them to make ends meet. For forty-plus years, NEIFB, has been a place that many can rely on for help. We work with so many food donors, including Target, Walmart, ConAgra, Tyson, Hy-Vee and Kwik Star, seeking out food that is still perfectly good but is not saleable. With the help of staff and volunteers, we bring food in and sort it and then distribute it through our programs. Whether it is through our onsite pantry, Mobile Food Pantries, Kids Café, Summer Feeding, Elderly Nutrition Program or our member Agencies, the Food Bank has always strived to be a place where there is grocery product available in anyone’s time of need. We are thankful for our different community partners we have that enable us to work to accomplish our mission. If it were not for the individuals, businesses, churches, foundations and organizations that help us every year to ensure people have access to food. 

The good news is the number of people who are reporting they are food insecure is much lower than it has been in years. The unwelcome news is, that since the state disaster declaration went away in April, which decreased the amount of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dollars that were available, the numbers of those we are serving are increasing. Couple that with higher prices, in general, some months we are seeing increases by as much as 15 percent more people served monthly. At the same time, the Food Bank is affected with higher costs for food we purchase, fuel and gas prices and inflation-like everyone else. Last year, our new brand, launched highlighting our 40th anniversary, and is a symbol to ensure people whoneed help have every meal, every day. We do this by Collaborating, Educating and Advocating for the food insecure person. You can help us do this. In September, please help us ensure people who need help and the Food Bank, itself, do not have to make the impossible choice. We are, once again highlighting the month as Hunger Action Month. There are so many activities you can participate in to make a difference in people’s lives. Whether it is volunteering on family volunteer night, getting people together to participate in one of our events or taking a tour of the Food Bank, you will learn how you can help your community. Go to www.neifb.org to find out what you can do. Hunger and Food Insecurity need to be a priority in our country. The perfect storm is brewing right now, inflation is not only hindering our work, more people, who may not be identifying-through national surveys – as food insecure need help. Your generosity has helped us meet the need over the years and we ask you to continue to get involved. You will help us ensure food is not the impossible choice.