Monthly Archives: January 2012

Faces of Hunger

Amy Costliow, SNAP Outreach Worker, Iowa Food Bank Association

If we’re passionate about advocating for the hungry, we must first know the hungry. We need to understand not just what they can or cannot eat, but most importantly who those who hunger are. As a new face in the daily fight against hunger in the State of Iowa, I have quickly learned hunger does not discriminate. Hunger doesn’t only affect certain geographical locations, certain races or certain economic classes. Want to know what else hunger doesn’t do? It doesn’t give a voice to those being crushed by its weight. I hope this post gives you some insight about the hungry in Iowa I’ve met, those who have lost their voice, those we fight for.

Janice* is Hungry *(all names have been changed to protect client’s identity)

When I first saw Janice* I could tell by her cane, headscarf, and warm smile that her story was a powerful one. As I talked with the group of people around her about SNAP benefits Janice looked hopeful and informed me, “I’ll be right over” in a quiet voice. As we began working through the online application she shared the struggles her family had been facing putting food on the table while trying to keep her well. Janice is a breast cancer survivor, who like many, was crippled by the costs of traveling to and from hospital visits and purchasing medication and treatments. Janice reminded me, we are all faced with choices but choosing whether to eat dinner or afford medicine should never be one of them. Janice is hungry.

 George* is Hungry

George* is a proud American. George served his country in the Air Force and married his high school sweetheart. He lives in the same small town in Eastern Iowa where he was raised. George and his wife raised three children who all went to college and are raising children with the values George and his wife taught them: work hard, be honest and help others. Unfortunately, those values aren’t putting food on George’s table these days. George is a senior citizen who lives alone and daily attends the senior meal his senior citizen center offers, but that leaves two meals for George to afford on his own every day. George served his country, contributed to his community and lived an honest life. George is hungry. 

 LeAnn and Alex* are Hungry

LeAnn has a two year old daughter and recently married Alex. These young parents are patient and kind with their daughter and I watched as they taught her about healthy snacks and meals. Alex and LeAnn were doing well a couple years ago and were thrilled when they found out they were expecting. Soon after they celebrated the birth of their daughter Alex was laid off. LeAnn and Alex are struggling to pay rent, afford utilities and provide food for their young family. LeAnn and Alex would like to open a savings account, prepare for when their baby goes to college and feed their daughter food that will help her grow big and strong, but hunger won’t allow for that. LeAnn and Alex are hungry.

 The stories above don’t even begin to share all the stories of those who hunger. There are over 382,000 of these stories, the stories of the over 382,000 Iowans who live next door to us, who go to our same church, and who struggle against hunger. When you hear about Janice, George and LeAnn and Alex I hope you are able to see them as Iowans, as people who deserve a chance and as someone worth fighting for.

Help us in giving Janice, George and LeAnn and Alex a voice. Stand with us in the fight against hunger.

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Inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Author: Jordan Vernoy - State Director of the Iowa Food Bank Association

Today, we remember the immeasurable debt our country owes to Martin Luther King Jr. On this day in particular I cannot help but be inspired by the words spoken by this great man.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

If readers took anything from my previous post, I hope it was a sense that feeding the hungry is not an issue of entitlement; it is not a place for anything but altruism; and it is certainly not a place for judgment. Any person going hungry in this world, our country and in the State of Iowa is an injustice and therefore a threat to justice everywhere.

Last Wednesday, the Iowa Food Bank Association had the chance to partner with many wonderful organizations that stand by our side in the fight against hunger. Together with the United Ways of Iowa, Food Bank of Iowa, Des Moines Area Religious Council, and Senator Jeff Danielson, we held a forum at the capitol building in Des Moines to educate central Iowa legislators on the issue of hunger and our proposed legislation. We collaborated with the United Ways of Iowa to hold similar forums throughout Iowa this past summer, and we plan to continue exposing hunger in Iowa through future forums..

I was asked after the event how this forum compared to others hosted throughout the state. In most senses it was fairly similar. The attendance matched those of other forums, the number of legislators in attendance was fairly standard and the agenda was almost verbatim from past events. However, there was most definitely one big difference: the atmosphere.

The Iowa state capitol building is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen, and the room in which we held the forum holds true to that standard. However, it is not just the appearance of the place that creates the atmosphere. It is the feeling I get as I approach Des Moines from the interstate, pull in to the parking lot and beginning walking towards the golden dome. It is a feeling that this is a place where change can happen, this is place where I can make my voice heard, and this is a place where I can fight social injustice. That ambiance resonated in the vaulted ceilings of the room, and our words felt magnified by the power the capitol building exudes.

However, words are fleeting and so is their power. No matter how much momentum a bellowing freight train has it will eventually come to a halt if fuel is not added to the fire. Voices of hunger advocates may have resonated through the halls of the capitol for an hour, maybe a day or possibly even longer, but without new voices joining the chorus and fueling the fire our message will slow to a halt and be passed by another message that is being fueled by a stronger fire.

My call to you is to not simply read, learn and possibly feel inspired, but to stand up and make your voice heard. Help us to gather the momentum we need to no longer allow hungry Iowans to be ignored and marginalized. Help us to expose hunger as the injustice that it is and join the fight to preserve justice for all.

To learn more and TAKE ACTION go to

Food is a Moral Right

Author: Jordan Vernoy - State Director of the Iowa Food Bank Association

A great lyricist, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, opens his Transatlanticism album with the line, “So, this is the New Year, and I don’t feel any different.” I understand this sentiment, but do not harbor the same feelings. I, and likely many others, see the celebration of a new year as a rejuvenation of hope. Some of our spark may have been lost in 2011. This New Year brings, if not a clean slate, a new one. The past is behind us, and we can dream of a better future. However, my lens is one of someone living in a three person household with two incomes, health benefits and even a little left over to save for retirement. I have the opportunity to imagine a bright future, because my past is pretty shiny as well. For the nearly 382,000 Iowans who struggle against hunger, Ben Gibbard’s lyric probably sounds about right. They lack the time to have beautiful dreams about their future, because they are forced to live in the present. The New Year is not going to magically put food on their table, provide them with low cost transportation, pay the heating bill or offer them a good paying job with benefits.  2012 has come, and they don’t feel any different.

I recently had the opportunity to speak at a Feeding America all staff meeting.  Feeding America is our national partner, an organization that connects over 250 food banks throughout the United States. I was asked to talk about the special things food banks in Iowa do during the holidays to support their member agencies and food insecure Iowans. As a part of that discussion I described the Northeast Iowa Food Bank’s (NEIFB) holiday food distributions, which I coordinated for two years while working at NEIFB. There is a lot that goes into the distribution, including procuring the food to provide to families, scheduling volunteers and, the hardest part, deciding who will receive the food. NEIFB simply cannot provide a holiday box to everyone they serve in a year, so processes are created to decide the recipients. The last year I coordinated the distribution we provided food to those clients who had received a crisis box in the three months prior to the distribution. Included were families who had never been to the food pantry before, had not been in the past six months, or had a major event happen in their lives that would create abnormal hardship. The clients were sent letters informing them of the date and time that they could receive their holiday distribution, and volunteers were coordinated for different shifts.

At this point in my speech to a staff of eager anti-hunger advocates, I went a direction that they did not expect.

During a break between shifts, a woman entered the food bank and asked if she could receive food. I asked her if she had received a letter, and after hearing an answer of, “No,” proceeded to tell her that this was a special distribution and she would need to return the next day to receive a normal distribution. The woman became irate, and began calling me every bad name you can think of in front of a group of volunteers, NEIFB staff and the NEIFB Executive Director.

Who should be frowned upon in this story? Me!

As we so often do, I had become so wrapped up in the policies and procedures that I ignored the purpose of my work: Feeding Hungry Iowans!  During the holiday season, this woman was not feeling comfort or joy. She was feeling the immeasurable stress of trying to put food on table for her family, and I shut another door in her face. Her reaction was completely warranted.

My mind quickly came to this conclusion, and I scrambled to put together a cart full of food to wheel out to her before she drove off.

This is another point where the story could read like a Hallmark movie where the woman breaks down in tears, apologizes for every name she called me and invites me to Christmas dinner. Again, reality is not the story that was expected.

As I got out to the woman’s car I apologized and offered her the cart of food. She said, “Oh, okay,” and popped the trunk. I loaded her trunk as she sat in the front seat with the engine running. As I shut the trunk door, she drove off.

I share this story to be honest with you about the fight against hunger. A great Iowan and Nobel Prize winner, Norman Borlaug, said “Food is the moral right of all who are born into this world.” When one is fighting for moral rights they are fighting for social justice. If we have learned anything from the Arab Spring and the ever increasing gap between the wealthy and poor, we have learned that fighting against social injustice is not pretty. We need everyone to stand with us in the fight against hunger in Iowa, but if you are signing up for tears of joy and hugs of thanksgiving you are in it for the wrong reasons and you may be sorely disappointed.  During the holiday season, a lot more consideration is given to the work of hunger advocates. Media attention is focused on the great work we do, and donations come in at drastically increased levels.  However, the real work happens the other ten months of the year when hunger is yet again forgotten, hungry Iowans are stuck feeling no different than they did last year, and we are hitting the pavement trying to keep pantry shelves from going bare. So you say, “Jordan, there has to be some incentive for you and the other amazing anti-hunger advocates to keep going.”  Yes, of course there are. The rewards I receive from this work are a faint hint of success each time IFBA helps one person, a new sense of hope each time it clicks for someone that hunger is an issue and they must take action, and lot of sleepless nights wondering how I can do more.

When you get right down to it, this work is about providing a voice to those who are unable to speak for themselves.  This blog is an honest perspective of what it looks like to be that voice. If you are ready to join the chorus, I would be proud to stand by your side as we fight for a hunger free Iowa/Nation/World.

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Welcome to the Iowa Food Bank Association’s blog. Here we will discuss the issue of hunger in Iowa and elsewhere. We will attempt to paint a real picture of the lives of hungry Iowans and those who are fighting to alleviate their plight.

We hope that you learn about hunger, and are inspired to Take Action! We look forward to you joining our efforts to feeding hungry Iowans!

You can learn more about IFBA at