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Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

Panthers Pack the Dome

Volunteers from across the Cedar Valley braved the cold weather to help the Northeast Iowa Food Bank pack bags for children who struggle with food-insecurity.

On a blustery Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the UNI-Dome transformed from a football stadium to a food packing facility.

A total of nearly 2,000 volunteers gathered in the Dome for the Northeast Iowa Food Bank’s MLK Day Pack the Dome event. The volunteers aimed to put together 60,000 bags of non-perishable, nutritious food to support food-insecure children of northeast Iowa through the food bank’s BackPack program. Once assembled, the backpacks are distributed through schools to feed children on weekends and over holiday breaks when school lunch is not available.

Northeast Iowa Food Bank Director Barb Prather said that holding the event in the Dome has helped bring more attention to the program.

“We actually started in the Commons where we packed a few thousands bags of food for our backpack program, and about five or six years ago we said, ‘let’s do it in the Dome. Let’s get a lot of people involved, not only to honor Dr. King and MLK day, but also to raise awareness to the issue of childhood hunger not only here in the Cedar Valley but throughout northeast Iowa,’” she said.

The BackPack program has grown to reach about 3,000 kids since starting in 2004. During the 2021-2022 school year, the program provided over 100,000 bags of food to kids at 159 schools in 16 counties.

Public relations major Paige Beck was one of the volunteers on Monday. She attended along with other members of UNI’s Public Relations Student Society of America, where she and her teammates helped break down boxes, restock food supplies and fill in wherever needed.

“We just really wanted to give back to our community,” she said.

Beck and the other volunteers are just one vital piece of what makes the program successful, according to Prather.

“It’s really a partnership with the community between our donors and our volunteers and also the schools that then distribute them out into the community,” she said. 

“Our focus is every meal every day for everyone, and we collaborate, educate and advocate for the food insecure person, and that’s really what we’re doing today,” she added.

Despite the frigid weather — with a high of 1 degree and a wind chill of 16 degrees below zero at the time the event ended — Prather said that the community still came together for the cause.

“The university recognizes that there’s food insecurity in our community, and because of that this is really the only place that we could do the logistics of all of this,” she said. “I don’t think there was ever a doubt that this would go forward.”

With all of the planning and coordination it takes to hold the event each year, Prather and her team focus on their main goal: helping the community.

“Our goal is to ensure people in northeast Iowa have access to food and that’s what we’re here doing, and it takes all of us working together to make that happen.”

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