Monthly Archives: October 2013

The quest for 1.8 million anti-hunger advocates and ZERO hungry Iowans


AARP recently released the results from their survey – “Hunger in Iowa: Awareness and Support for State Action”. I was pleasantly surprised by two findings:  1) at least half of all Iowans (18+) have donated money or food to a feeding organization, donated food to a food drive, or gave money directly to an individual; however, up to 32% more Iowans would give if asked, and 2) nearly three-quarters of Iowans say both public and private organizations (and individuals) “should help reduce the number of families at risk for hunger in Iowa”.

As the director of Iowa Food Bank Association, these results come with fireworks and shooting stars. Rallying the troops and forming partnerships is exactly what we need to take on this battle with hunger.

I have a message to all Iowans — follow your heart; join the bandwagon of taking care of your friends and neighbors. This study shows the intense caring power of the human spirit if only we reached out and invited others to take action. We need you to start in your own community and build support – encourage donating to food drives, organizing a food drive, donating money, volunteering, or donating produce.

The study also finds that nearly three-quarters of Iowans say both the public and private sector “should help reduce the number of families at risk for hunger in Iowa”. The key word in the above finding is both — or in other words, all. Tackling hunger takes the whole state – public and private, elected leaders and constituents, and corporations and individuals.

The Iowa Food Bank Association and eight partner Feeding America Food Banks serving the state have a long list of volunteers and advocates (both public and private) that support our mission. However, the state of Iowa has roughly 2.3 million residents over the age of eighteen. Using the findings of this study, we can loosely expect that a 1.8 million Iowans have an interest in donating their energy, voice, or money toward the cause. Similarly, we can loosely assume that 1.69 million Iowans believe that fighting hunger should take the form of a public-private partnership.

Now you see why I get excited! Let’s make a deal – if we, at the food bank association commit to recruiting more volunteers, donors, and advocates, will you commit to encouraging action in your community? Can you imagine the impact 1.8 million Iowans would have as we fight this issue of hunger? Can you imagine a state where all individuals have equal access to food? I can and I think it’s amazing. With your help, we can make this happen!

–Cory Berkenes


Who are We to Judge?

Not every client is perfect.

Some clients have a history of bad decisions. Some struggle every day to stay clean. Others need help to make better decisions with a variety of lifestyle choices. From choosing healthier foods to staying on a monthly budget- my clients need help doing it all. On the other hand, some of my clients are ideal parents who fell on hard times, or the veteran who came home and needs help making ends meet. No matter what the story, they all need help.

Contrary to many popular assertions, the people I help do not live the life of luxury. Many of them struggle to find every meal, clean clothes, sanitary water, and a safe place to sleep. They make difficult decisions every day, such as choosing between paying the heating bill and filling a much needed medical prescription. A majority of my clients cannot afford private insurance and suffer from medical conditions that only grow worse with time and inadequate medical care. While a lot of my clients do have cars, some of them are forced to sleep in them from time to time when the money gets even tighter. Clean laundry is usually not a daily option but a luxury. Showering at times, is not even a remote possibility.
In short, the people I help on a daily basis need my help. Some have not lived a life on the straight and narrow. People make mistakes, nobody is perfect.

If a person or a family needs help- who are we to judge?

–Katie Reidy

The Power in a Pantry

There is nothing quite the same as a mobile food pantry. Although they are hosted and administered by different agencies and food banks, they are all strangely similar. Unlike a fixed pantry, a very large amount of food is distributed in a very small window of time and seems to me to be a most effective and efficient way to alleviate hunger, especially in a food desert.

The organizations that host the mobiles are as varied as the client base yet share a common purpose: dedicated volunteers from 18 to 80 gather a couple hours before the distribution to unload the truck and arrange the product in sometimes limited spaces and train each Worker on his/her responsibility.

After a group pep talk/prayer, the doors open at the designated time and the line begins to snake through – filling laundry baskets, totes and plastic bags; no one who needs assistance to carry their boxes is refused, it is rather like the parable of the loaves and fishes, both with food and helpers – always in abundance.

In less than an hour the crowd has subsided; the home deliveries have been packed and moved to their respective cars; and leftovers, if any remain are loaded and sent to receiving organization.

Sounds like someone wrote a how-to manual on running a mobile pantry, doesn’t it? Well as far as I know, other than a general overview on rules and regs, I would assume that the mobile runs primarily by common sense and good leadership, combined with love for your fellow human being.

And that’s what makes the mobile pantries such incredible places of joy and giving. Seeing the smiles on the kids when Mom gets their favorite sweet treat, the tears of relief to know the family can make it till the EBT card gets filled or Dad’s hours come back up, and the smiles between the recipients and volunteers as the line goes around the room.

Judgment free zone? As much as we can hope for. Anyone get left out? Not if we can help it.

See you next month!!

-Cindy Jones

VISTA Snap Challenge

VISTA Snap Challenge

Annaleah & Virginia’s SNAP Challenge food items

Annaleah and Virginia SNAP Challenge—9/27/2013

To end Hunger Awareness Month, we decided to try the SNAP challenge.

Goal: to “spend” $31.50, or average SNAP benefits for 1 person for a week, at HyVee for healthy food that we would be willing to eat and able to make more than one meal out of the foods chosen. We did not actually purchase and eat this food, but took pictures and wrote down the prices.

We found out that just going to the store and picking things without using a list or otherwise preparing took us longer and hurt our goal of getting the right foods for a balanced diet.

One choice we had to make was what brands to buy. While the store brands may be cheaper, they might not have as good a taste or be as healthy. For products such as milk and eggs this isn’t too much of a problem, but for processed foods, such as cereal, the generic might not be what is expected. We decided to buy a lot of store brand products because we wanted to get more for our money, and most of the products we bought were going to be part of some other recipe.

After we had chosen all our products, we found that we got a lot of products in the protein category, and not too many in the fruits and vegetables categories. We came into the project intending to buy fruits and veggies, but when the money started adding up, we decided to go with the foods that would last longer, such as dried beans and lentils.

If we did the project over again, one thing we would change is we would make a list before going shopping. When we went with only the intention of trying to get all the food groups covered, as well as keeping whole grains in mind, we lost track of what was actually bought. We ended up not getting as much produce as we would have liked for this reason.

We thought that we had meals covered pretty well for the week. We planned to have a banana, cereal, and/or toast for breakfast, a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch (as well as dinner leftovers), and tacos, pasta, baked potatoes, or soup for dinner. The chicken broth, dried beans, and lentils would last a while and could be used for future soups. The cereal would also last longer than a week, and so would the eggs. Carrots and potatoes could be added to the soup, or could be used as a side for another dish.

We spent nearly all of the $31.50, with 55 cents left over. With better planning and a little more creativity, we could probably purchase more produce and have a more nutritionally-balanced meal plan.



1/2 gallon 1% milk


1 dozen medium eggs


1 loaf whole wheat bread


1 pound dry pinto beans


1 pound dry lentils


1 pkg chicken bouillon


5 lbs potatoes


2 lbs carrots


2 lbs bananas


1 16-oz pkg ham lunchmeat


1 pound tri-color pasta


1 24-oz can pasta sauce


1 16-oz pkg cheese slices


1 14-oz pkg generic Cheerios cereal


1 lb hamburger


1 taco seasoning packet


8 whole-wheat tortillas


1 15-oz can refried beans





I failed the SNAP challenge….

I could never be poor. I say this with the utmost respect for the families, individuals and seniors who fight the battle of poverty every day, because quite frankly- its crap. That is not to say that I live the life of luxury and ease. For most of my short life I have worked 2 or 3 jobs at a time, and I do live on a budget. However, that is completely different than living at or near the poverty line in America today.

When I first heard of the SNAP challenge, I thought it would be piece of cake living on $31.50 a week. I budget $40 a week for groceries so I figured I could go one week living on a bit less. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how often I eat out.

Nevertheless, when I started out all I could think was that this would be easy for me. I am a single person so I didn’t have to worry about feeding the kids or separating my grocery items for a week from the rest of the family. I am also one of those people who can’t keep a goldfish alive so I didn’t have to worry about feeding the dog. Literally, all I had to do was keep myself alive on $31.50 a week, and I failed. As a matter of fact, I failed big time.

To start with, I managed to stay under the $31.50 budget at the grocery store, which gave me a false sense of accomplishment. As such, the first day I was excited for the challenge. Having already bought my grocery items I had it planned out in my mind what I would eat. I packed up my lunch and afternoon snack and I was good to go! Consequently, the first day was pretty easy.

The second day was where things started to go awry. I started the day off by forgetting my lunch. I stressed all day about food or my lack thereof and so I waited until I got home that night to eat. At this point I was literally starving so I ate whatever I could make the fastest. Turns out, pre-packaged cookies are pretty easy to prepare. Because I was so hungry I ate an entire section of cookies and went to bed that night feeling pretty horrible. Physically, my stomach was in knots after starving all day and eating cookies for dinner, while mentally I was drained from worrying all day and anxious about facing the challenge the next day.

On the third day, I failed. I woke up with a headache, got showered, dressed and drove to the nearest coffee shop and purchased a tall, turtle mocha for $4.55 and left a $1.00 tip. I have never been so ashamed and yet so happy in my whole life. I sat in my car like a teenager skipping class and relished in my sugar-infused coffee drink. For me, that coffee symbolized the end of my hunger. If only it were that easy for the hungry families, individuals and seniors across the state of Iowa.

Yesterday, the last day of September’s Hunger Action month, felt like a good time to reflect on the challenges of hunger. I learned that hunger is only the beginning of what it feels like to not have food. It’s not just physical, but more importantly it is mentally draining. For me, the stress and anxiety that accompany hunger made the challenge simply overwhelming. For the thousands of Iowans who face hunger every day, overwhelming doesn’t even begin to explain their challenge.


– Katie Reidy