Legislative Re-cap: A Note from IFBA’s State Director

2014 Legislative Wrap-up:  Missed Opportunities and Unfinished Business

Hope and Promise. These are two words that could have easily described the 2014 Iowa Legislative Session. Unfortunately, the combined work of our elected officials has forced 390,000 hungry Iowans to fend for themselves.

Two of our bills, HF2471 (Income tax check-off hunger fund) and SF2356 (sales tax exemption for food banks), received nearly unanimous bipartisan support — 94-1 and 49-0 respectively — from their originating chamber. This means that only 1 out of 143 Senators and Representatives voted against these two bills. So, how did these two bills not pass? The House simply failed to bring SF2356 to the floor for concurrence. Likewise, the Senate simply failed to bring HF2471 to the floor for concurrence.  Both pieces of legislation received bipartisan support and would have brought hope and promise to the 12.7% of Iowans (nearly one in five children) struggling with hunger. Iowa missed a great opportunity simply because business was left unfinished – an outcome that would not be tolerated in most other professional settings.

During the 2013 Session, the governor approved of a $1 million state matching appropriation for food banks. Though this effort has already leveraged nearly 4.5 million meals for Iowans (with an expected total impact of 9 million meals), the matching appropriation was not renewed this session.

Still, we prefer to focus on the successes of the session. Iowa Food Bank Association and partner food bank staff, volunteers, and anti-hunger advocates stood up for our friends and neighbors. We shared the heart-wrenching stories of our children going to school hungry, the stories of the families that experienced a debilitating disaster, the story of an Iowa man who suffered a serious injury on the job and hasn’t been able to work for ten years. We shared the stories of fellow Iowans that now struggle with hunger due to common misfortunes. We shared these stories and invited people to get involved.

The lack of attention at the capitol this session has only fueled our fire. There is still unfinished business in the state and we, at the Iowa Food Bank Association, do not intend to walk away until all Iowans are recognized as valued citizens. Will you join us as we continue this fight?

-Cory Berkenes

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IFBA Intern Brian Huniker looks back on his experiences at the Iowa State Capitol

My time as the IFBA Policy and Advocacy intern has been a rewarding one. Not necessarily rewarding in terms of overall accomplishment (though I am proud of the work we did), but very rewarding in terms of experience. I was pleased to have the opportunity to gain an in-depth look at Iowa’s legislative process through meeting with legislators and following our bills; and even more pleased with having the opportunity to make a positive impact on Iowa law regarding food insecure people residing in the state. Overall, I realized disappointments, redeeming moments, and most importantly, gained a lot of experience related to my study of Political Science.
My main disappointment was with the tangible end result of our bills. The work Cory and I did this session for hungry Iowans was not realized in the form of food bank legislation. In the end, none of the legislation we were advocating for had passed. The most disappointing aspect of this was the realization of just how murky politics can be. The fact that two of our bills passed nearly unanimously with bipartisan support out of their chamber of origin, but failed to even make it to the other chambers’ floor for a vote is extremely disappointing to me. It is indicative of an Iowa congress that, as a whole, may need to reevaluate their priorities for the next session.
It was not all bad. While our bills did not pass, there were members of Iowa’s congress that expressed a deep commitment to food banks in the state, as well as intangible success in experience gained for future advocating campaigns. I have no doubt that the work Cory and I did this session, coupled with the commitment that was expressed by a select group of lawmakers, will work in the IFBA’s favor in the coming sessions. Next year, we know now that getting bills through as early as possible greatly increases the chances of their passage. A more aggressive search for support from chamber leadership may also be necessary in the next session, especially if Republicans control one or both chambers. Even if they are not under Republican control, chamber leadership often controls the calendar, so meeting with that leadership may prove to be an important step in the process.
I am happy that I chose an internship with the IFBA over the others that I was offered. Not only is feeding people an easy cause to get behind, but I also do not believe that I would have received the amount of experience I gained in politics during this session anywhere else. I was given the opportunity to work at the Iowa Capitol as much or as little as I had time for, and was often left to make my own decisions based on my previous knowledge of the political system and legislative process. It was an experience that I am grateful for, and one I will not forget.

-Brian Huniker

Mayor’s Day Of Recognition

Mayoral Luncheon

The nation’s mayors are increasingly turning to national service as a cost-effective strategy to address city challenges. By unleashing the power of citizens, AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs have a positive and lasting impact – making our cities better places to live. To spotlight the impact of national service and thank those who serve, mayors across the country will participate in the second-annual Mayors Day of Recognition for National Service.

On this day, mayors will hold public events and use traditional and social media to highlight the value and impact of national service to the nation’s cities. Last year, 832 Mayors representing nearly 100 million citizens participated in the inaugural Mayors Day of Recognition for National Service. The initiative is being led by the Corporation for National and Community Service; Cities of Service; the National League of Cities; and Mesa, AZ, Mayor Scott Smith, President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Why a Day of Recognition?

As solution-focused local elected officials, mayors have a unique role in this country. Mayors’ focus on engaging citizens and meeting local needs matches CNCS’s mission to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement. CNCS’s priority on expanding economic opportunity to create sustainable and resilient communities directly aligns with the goals of mayors. A coordinated day of recognition presents a unique opportunity to spotlight the key role that national service plays in solving local problems and challenges.

Participating in the day will highlight the impact of citizen service, show support for nonprofit and national service groups, and inspire more residents to serve in their communities.

What Happened Last Year?

On April 9, 2013, the first-ever Mayors Day of Recognition for National Service united Mayors across the country to spotlight the impact of national service and honor those who serve. Altogether, 832 Mayors in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico officially recognized the work that AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers are doing to make cities better and stronger. Together, these Mayors represent nearly 100 million citizens, or nearly one-third of all Americans.

April 24th marked the Cedar Valley Volunteer Center’s Annual Mayor’s Luncheon, where Cedar Valley Volunteers were recognized for their service to various Cedar Valley non-profits, including the AmeriCorps members who are currently serving in the Cedar Valley. Please join the Iowa Food Bank Association in thanking the 10 VISTA’s serving in Iowa’s 8 Feeding America Food Banks!

What is the Meaning of Brave? A year in the Life of a VISTA.

For the past year, I have been an AmeriCorps VISTA at River Bend Foodbank in Davenport, IA. VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America and for one year you pledge to help bring individuals and communities out of poverty. During my year of service I did marketing and public relations for the Food Bank. I was in charge of our Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as updating our website. I also organized our photo library and kept it updated as new photos are taken, wrote stories and press releases, and assisted with grants and our newsletters.

Before I became an AmeriCorps VISTA member, I was very involved in hunger organizations. When my professor at my college made me aware of this opportunity, I immediately applied, knowing this was the perfect fit for me. During my first few weeks as a VISTA I helped with the Hunger Study. I had volunteered at a food pantry before, but going to all different kinds of pantries (large, small, client choice, etc.) really opened my eyes to hunger. People would willingly tell me their story. As I sat there, stunned and in disbelief of the obstacles these people face, I came to realize my struggles were minimal compared to the ones put in front of these individuals. Yes, life had not always treated me fair, but I never went without food, clothing, and shelter. I was blessed to never have to worry if I would get dinner one night or if we would be sleeping in our car.
I had many tasks as a VISTA, but I feel that my greatest accomplishment was increasing the Food Bank’s presence on social media (Facebook, Twitter). River Bend already had a Facebook and Twitter but were not very active on either account. I began posting 2 to 3 times a week when my year of service started and am now posting every day of the week (Monday-Friday). Our Facebook likes have increased by over 180 and our Twitter followers have increased by over 120. I have discovered what posts make our followers most engaged. This is also the part of the job that I love the most! I find it very enjoyable and I get to explore my creative side.

This past year has taught me many lessons, but the most important I learned was the meaning of brave. There are so many stigmas about people that use food pantries. The people I have met are in a very dark place in their lives and it pains them to ask for assistance. A brave person is someone who walks into a food pantry and asks for assistance or goes to a meal site. Asking for help can be scary and nerve-wracking and I look up to these individuals.

Many of you are probably wondering what a VISTA does after their year of service has ended. Some choose to go to graduate school, others decide to serve another year, and many look for employment. I won’t have to say goodbye to the River Bend Food Bank after my service year is over, because I will become the newly created Marketing Assistant. I am extremely lucky to be staying at the Food Bank and am thrilled to continue working on the fight against hunger!

Volunteering and living on a stipend for one year is the best thing I ever could have done immediately after receiving my Bachelor of Arts degree. I learned more than I ever dreamed of and met some incredible/inspiring people along the way.

–Jennifer Schroder
AmeriCorps VISTA
River Bend Food Bank

DO FACTS COUNT ANYMORE?

Recently, I was on a panel talking about hunger and food insecurity. Afterwards, a women came up and said, ” Well, I don’t support people who get food stamps. They don’t deserve it.” The next day my colleague, Bill Bolling, CEO at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, writing in that food bank’s newsletter asked a question that recalled that women’s comment. With his permission, some of the remarks are captured here:

“…She looked me in the eye and said she doesn’t like to support people who use food stamps because they buy things she views as unhealthy like soft drinks, snack foods, beer and cigarettes. When I told her that was not quite true, that people couldn’t purchase cigarettes, beer or even toiletries with food stamps, I detected a chill. She then told me she didn’t think people who could work should get any help at all. When I told her that most people who use food stamps do in fact work, but make very low wages, that access to food stamps is strictly income based, she didn’t seem to believe me. She had a strong narrative about fraud and abuse and worthiness. Facts didn’t seem to matter to her.”

Food Stamps are a lightning rod for most of us, a symbol for all that is wrong in our country. But according to research released this summer by the USDA and by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, food stamps have lifted people out of poverty, reduced food insecurity, provided for healthier newborns, and have correlated with improved educational achievement and less reliance on welfare in adulthood by women who had received food stamps for periods during their childhood. DO THE FACTS COUNT ANYMORE? and if so, whose facts count more?

Bill Went on to discuss, “If we don’t share a common set of facts as a community, how can we plan? How can we determine priorities? How can we trust each other? Let’s move from throwing our personal sets of “facts” at each other like rocks, and determine what works. Today our greatest poverty may be our lack of constructive ideas and courage to try them.”

“May those with a strong moral compass stand up and speak up for what is right. If we can’t agree on the facts, may we dig deep into our collective soul to take a higher path based on common values and higher aspirations to make the world a better place for everyone. It requires a generous heart full of grace and brutal honesty about what we know in our hearts is true.”

Thank you Bill, and thank you, friends, for knowing what in your heart is true.

-Susan Ogborn
Director, Food Bank For the Heartland

This article was taken from the Winter 2014 addition of the Food Bank For the Heartland’s monthly newsletter. To find more information of the facts on hunger in Iowa, visit the Iowa Food Bank Association’s website at http://www.iowafba.org and click on Map the Meal Gap.

Expanding on SNAP Outreach

Tax season offers yet another opportunity to expand SNAP Outreach beyond our usual Feeding sites and senior centers to connect with a different audience. Whether it is at a VITA site for low-income households, or an AARP sponsored tax-aide site, we can visit with a wide range of individuals who can use our assistance and/or share our message. In Urbandale, we are partnering with AARP in a pilot project being tested in three states this year. IFBA staff and volunteers are on-site two hours per day, four days a week. We provide each tax client with our information, assessing their need, and asking them to spread the word about SNAP to their relatives, neighbors, friends, church and wherever there might be a need. We have found that word of mouth referrals are among the best methods to reach the most who request our assistance. We hope this pilot will be replicated throughout the U.S. next year as we demonstrate the value of this community partnership.

-Cindy Jones, SNAP Outreach Coordinator

A Glimpse of the Heart of a Food Pantry…..

Sue Swartz, the pantry director at Christ United Methodist Church at 3801 7th St., East Moline, IL, has a huge heart for helping others. The food pantry is open Monday through Friday from 9a.m. to 12p.m. and serves approximately 300 individuals every month in the East Moline/Silvis area. The pantry prepackages the food with the help of their 2 volunteers each day (1 desk attendant and 1sack room attendant). The amount of food they give out is an emergency one week supply and the clients can come every 30 days. The food pantry has been in operation for 40 years.
Without the River Bend Foodbank, Sue said the pantry couldn’t run. “I just couldn’t imagine not having the River Bend Foodbank. They are a great group. They see a lot of me and they are always willing to help,” she stated. The Christ United Methodist food pantry receives food from the River Bend Foodbank every week, where they receive 95% of their supply.
The one thing that Sue would love to be able to do all of the time at the food pantry is to be a greeter. She loves interacting with the clients that come in and makes them feel comfortable and loved. She wants to help them, but she also wants them to be productive members of society. Sue pushes the clients to be their very best and especially loves their hugs! When Sue first took over as pantry director, her priority was that all clients were treated with dignity. Sue has changed the volunteer’s views and now they have a true heart for the people.
The church congregation is very supportive of the food pantry. The women of the church knit/crochet scarves and blankets for the clients when the weather turns cold. A couple celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary is asking for canned goods instead of gifts to be donated to the food pantry.
Sue says that the biggest challenge the food pantry faces is “having ample amount of food.” She would love to be able to give more and never run out of cereal! The Christ United Methodist Church food pantry is filled with loving individuals that make you feel at home the moment you step in the door, which makes for a wonderful experience.
By Jennifer Schroder
River Bend Foodbank AmeriCorps VISTA

From the Director…….

2014 Legislative Session Update

To some, another year means just another legislative session. For us, another year means another opportunity to create policy to positively affect those that struggle with hunger.

Last year, we – along with food banks, food pantries and advocates from around the state – successfully secured $1 million for additional food purchases. This program has enjoyed success. As of January 28th, food banks have been able to purchase food amounting to an additional 922,031 additional meals. The food purchased with these funds has already been made available to 545 agencies in 66 Iowa counties. The expected impact of this program will be the purchase of enough food for an additional 4.5 million meals to be distributed in all 99 Iowa counties.

This year, food banks are advocating for new legislation:
• Sales Tax Exemption – exempting the eight Feeding America food banks from sales tax would free up approximately $80,000 – $100,000 for additional food purchases and programming. The benefits of this savings could be passed on directly to food pantries and food insecure Iowans.
• Income Tax Check-off – A successful push for this bill would place the food banks on the income tax forms allowing Iowans to direct a dollar or two to assist in the fight against hunger.

Currently, our two bills are still waiting to be introduced in committee. We have a shell bill with a collection of food security legislation originating in the House. The Co-sponsors of this bill are Rep. Dawn Pettengill, Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, Rep. Art Staed, Rep. Dan Kelley, and Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt. IFBA has already requested hunger-relief advocates from targeted counties to call their representatives in support of this effort.

Senator Bill Dotzler has taken sponsorship of a sales-tax bill originating in the Senate. We are working closely with Senator Dotzler to make sure this legislation progresses.

Because of the consolidated session time-table, it will be extremely important that you, hunger-relief advocates, food pantries, and leaders in the state rise up and speak in favor of new policy. We don’t want to miss this opportunity. Stay tuned to the Iowa Food Bank Association through April to get the latest updates from the capitol. We will request emails and calls to the statehouse at a few of the key moments this session. Please know, however, it is never too early to call your legislator and tell them that ensuring all Iowans have access to food should be a priority. Together, we can leverage the change needed to address hunger. Together, we can make a difference.
-Cory Berkenes

VISTA’s Participate In MLK Day of Service!

MLK Day Adie“A Day On, Not a Day off!”  Each of our VISTA Members took time on January 20th, 2014 to volunteer for a service project in their community.

Adie – Food Bank of Southern Iowa

“I was at Helping Hand in Albia that day. I was there all morning, the ”pantry” part wasn’t open so  I helped them sort clothes.”

MLK Day Trish

Trish – Food Bank of Iowa 

 “I volunteered at the Volunteer Center of Story County making felt hats and scarfs.”

Claudia – HACAP

I volunteered at the Science Center here in Cedar Rapids Monday morning along with nearly a dozen Youth Achievement

MLK Day Claudia 5Corps members from the area.  We were assigned different tasks helping out around the Science Center, and I was in a group with 4 other girls who were in charge of sketching and painting a dinosaur mural on canvas.  Despite most of us not being very artistic, I must say that our dinosaur turned out amazing!  More volunteers came in the afternoon to paint the skeleton of the dinosaur on top of what we had painted with some type of glow in the dark/UV paint that would be invisible in normal light, but would show up under a black light.  The canvas will be put on display in the Science Center so that the children that come to the center can see what a Stegosaurus looked like on both the outside, and inside.  It was a fun way to be able to volunteer on MLK Day and to have a unique way to give back to the community!

Annaleah and Virginia -Food Bank for the Heartland

For MLK Day of Service, the Food Bank for the Heartland VISTAs went to Open Door Mission and helped in their kitchen. They serve about 2000 meals per day. We helped with food preparation for the evening meal. Some of us diced ham, others packed snack foods, while some others also mashed eggs. We got a workout! There were other volunteers there who helped make the time go very quickly with their good attitudes and humor.

MLK Day FBFHWe also volunteered at the Food Bank for the Heartland on the Wednesday immediately after MLK Day of Service. We got a taste of what it’s like to be a regular volunteer here because we did case-lotting, where we set up and filled boxes to a certain weight with certain products. In two hours, one team did 98 boxes weighing 20 pounds each of candy and the other team did 144 boxes. Some of the boxes were 15 pounders full of cookies and the others were 25 pounders of assorted canned foods. We estimate that we packaged around 4000 pounds of food for the agencies to order!

Jennifer – Riverbend Food Bank

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day I volunteered at one of our numerous food pantries. I have developed a wonderful relationship with the pantry director, as well as volunteered here in the past, and was excited to return. I was given the task of handing out frozen blueberries and instructing the clients on how much bread they could have. We had a steady crowd for the 2 hours we were open and MLK Day Jennifereveryone was very kind and gracious. I realized a couple of years ago when I first volunteered at a food pantry how hard it must be for the person to admit that they need assistance. I know many of them are ashamed that they have to ask for help. Today, I realized something else. Some individuals turn down the food they are given. For instance, a few people passed by the bread table today without taking any. I understand this has to take a lot of courage to refuse food that is given to them at no cost. But they are being a great blessing to others in need. The individuals that don’t take the food do so because they simply do not like it, or because they or their family members have an allergy to the product. Instead of taking the food because they feel that they should, they kindly say “no” because they know it will just go to waste in their household. I hope they understand that this simple act can help feed another hungry family. My Day of Service had a great impact on me and made my drive to help hungry people in my community even stronger.

Amy – Northeast Iowa Food Bank

I worked with a volunteer group this morning which included a family that brought in their kids to serve at the food bank.  We worked on sorting and cleaning the reclamation food that came in on Friday.  We completed 3 palettes before lunch time!

Liz – IFBA

For Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, I volunteered at a meal packing event for Meals from the Heartland at AIB. The goal for the day was to 18,000 meals with 350 volunteers, we exceeded the goal and over 21,000 meals were packed! Meals from the Heartland is a nonprofit volunteer based program that packages meals for hungry people both internationally and locally.

MLK Day Liz

For more information on how you can participate in the Martin Luther King Day of Service, go to http://mlkday.gov/

A Day in the life of a SNAP Outreach Worker…….

“Ever since my sister, Katie Reidy, started working for the Iowa Food Bank and the Feeding America Association I always wondered what exactly she did on a daily basis. A few times I even asked her and Katie would always humbly respond that she assisted in signing people up for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or as many know it as SNAP. This response sounded simple enough therefore I never questioned her further as to how she does it, why she does it and what it means to her. However, this last fall I was required to make a short documentary on a person, organization or group that is helping change the world. Instantly, my thoughts were directed to Katie. There were so many unanswered questions as to what Katie did on a daily basis and more importantly why she did it. Katie was more than willing to give up some of her time to dedicate to this documentary and to further explain and show me why and how she assists the people of Iowa through the Feeding America Association. Over 60 hours of creating this documentary I have learned the meaning behind this organization and how it helps to shape and mold our world into a better place. My goal in creating this documentary, was to capture the meaning behind the motivation of SNAP Outreach workers, like Katie. At the end of my time spent with Katie I found myself humbled by what she does on a daily basis and motivated to get involved. Overall, there is one message that will always remind me of why my sister does her job; ask not what others can do for you but rather what you can do for others.”

-Bridgett Reidy

 

See the documentary at: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xBGHqIPH_c;sm=3

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