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Legislature considering greater appropriations for Iowa food banks

BY HILLARY ROSENCRANTS | APRIL 23, 2013 5:00 AM

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With the rising cost of food, food banks all over Iowa are having trouble meeting the demands they could meet in previous years.

However, a bill that passed the Senate last week provides a beacon of hope for food-bank officials — the bill states that $2 million in appropriations will be awarded to Iowa food banks.

There are eight large food banks across the state and approximately 200 smaller food pantries, most of which have seen a large decline in donations. The bill would aim to make up for previous deficits in food donations and revenue for the food banks.

Sarah Benson Witry, the emergency-assistant director of the Johnson County Food Pantry, said that the group has been hurting for a while.

“Our demand for food is outstripping the provisions,” she said. “Our community donations have suffered. It’s definitely a struggle.”

The decline in donations has grown exponentially over a period of three years, largely because of rising food costs in grocery stores and a growing number of people who are labeled by the government as food insecure. The Food Pantry alone receives more than 800 visits weekly from those in need.

Witry is also concerned about the types of food her pantry receives. The pantry accepts donations in several ways, most notably from the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program, a nonprofit that provides a variety of services for several counties in the area. The Food Pantry receives approximately 15 percent of its food from the Hawkeye program, and this number is growing.

“We utilize [the Hawkeye program] a lot more than we have in the past; however, the variety of foods we’re able to receive has greatly decreased,” Witry said. “We’re getting more food, but it’s a lot of the same things over and over. We haven’t seen as much of what we need – fruits and vegetables, meats, and perishables like milk and eggs.”

Amanda Pieper, director of the program’s food reservoir, is also concerned about the future of food banks in Iowa.

“We’re definitely seeing a drop off in donations coming in and a much higher amount of user demand of our services, so this bill would help to level our playing field,” Pieper said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website, nearly 15 percent of all households in the United States are food insecure at some point during the year.

Despite the hardships of the past three years, food banks all over Iowa are revving up for a big donation season, which begins in May.

The Johnson County Food Pantry’s next drive will be held April 27 at Kinnick Stadium, where officials will collect canned items and non-perishables.

Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Cedar Rapids, is an avid supporter of the bill.

“Food banks asked us for support because they want to build the capacity that they need to grow and to feed the needy in Iowa,” Mathis said. “The moral thing to do is to support the food banks in Iowa.”

However, the bill’s passing will be a struggle, especially considering the opposition it has received.

“I don’t see it as a state’s role to begin funding for food banks, which I see as a local and regional responsibility,” said Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan. “It could potentially reduce the amount of local donations, because people will assume that the government takes care of that.”

Regardless, officials are remaining optimistic about the future of the food bank bill.

“We really hope that the bill passes and that we’re able to provide the support to our partner agencies,” Pieper said. “We’re excited to see where it goes.”


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