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Governor ignores 400,000 hungry Iowans: IFBA State Director responds to the Condition of the State address

indexI was honored to claim a seat in the House Chambers as our Governor – the Honorable Terry Branstad -delivered his Condition of the State address. It was a true pleasure to be present and surrounded by state leaders and members of the general public that have made a difference in Iowa over the past year.

A well-spoken and veteran governor delivered a smooth and convincing speech. Unfortunately, he ignored the 12.8% of Iowans that live under the federal poverty level and the 12.9% of Iowans that struggle with hunger. The governor did not acknowledge the 19.3% of all children in Iowa that do not know where their next meal is coming from. He did not mention that one in five children who are hungry do more poorly in school and lack the concentration to succeed.[1] He did not mention that one in seven expecting mothers in Iowa may be at greater risk for major depression and other mental health problems.[2] The governor did not mention that food insecurity is associated with a range of chronic illnesses.[3] We cannot ignore these numbers.

If the governor wishes for Iowa to become the healthiest state in the nation and is determined to make our education system the best, he will need to make fighting-hunger a priority. The lasting effects of hunger on health, education, and the economy are alarming.

As the governor concluded his address and exited to a standing ovation, I reflected on his words – or lack of words in this case – and wondered how such a glaring social injustice can be completely omitted from a speech of this magnitude. I don’t know the answer to this. Quite frankly, we don’t have time to understand the reasoning. What I do know is that WE ALL need to strap on our boots, grab our megaphones, and speak up for our friends and neighbors who struggle with hunger. WE ALL need to emphasize the importance of a public-private partnership in combating hunger in our state. WE ALL need to fight for our fellow Iowans to ensure EVERYONE has a fair chance at achieving the American Dream. We will not ignore this issue and we don’t think the Governor should either.

[1] Cook, John and Jeng, Karen. Child food insecurity: The economic impact on our nation. Feeding America.

[2] Heflin, Siefert, and Williams (2005) Food insufficiency and women’s mental health: Findings from a 3-year panel of welfare recipients. Social Science & Medicine, 61, 1971-1982.

[2] Whitaker, Phillips, and Orzol (2006) Food insecurity and the risks of depression and anxiety in mothers and behavior problems in their pre-school-aged children. Pediatrics, 118, e859–e868.

[3] Seligman, Laraia, and Kushel (2009) Food Insecurity Is Associated with Chronic Disease among Low-Income NHANES Participants. Journal of Nutrition, 140, 304-310


$4.50 a day … truly is a (SNAP) challenge.

September is National Hunger Month. This month, hundreds of food banks and food pantries around the country are engaging members of the community, local businesses, and public officials in their work. It is an opportunity to encourage people to act on hunger – an issue that plagues our nation.

Here, in our state, the network of eight Feeding America food banks, more than 350 food pantries, and another 700 partner agencies have leveraged new corporate partnerships, enhanced awareness of hunger issues in Iowa, and increased their volunteer base.

Knowing the impact Hunger Action Month has had on the state, I thought I would step up and take part in the SNAP Challenge this week. I was looking forward to the challenge to see just what my body (and mind) could sustain. Now, four days into the challenge, I have to recall my “looking forward to the challenge” statement. I have to realize that there are more than 46 million Americans (408,000 Iowans) participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The average benefit (nationally) per person is $133.41 per month ($4.50 a day) and in Iowa the average benefit is just $121.20 per month. It was an inconsiderate mindset of mine to “look forward to the challenge”.  For millions of American, hunger is a reality every single day.Image

Earlier this week, I took my $31.50 (average weekly SNAP benefit) to Fareway Food Stores to purchase food for the week. I quickly learned the challenge presented to SNAP participants.

It’s great that fresh produce is situated near the front door of most stores; though the cost of fresh produce quickly adds up. I bypassed this section at first and gathered other items to make sure I could prepare meals for five days (with a few days of left-overs). After searching for the best deals, I went back to pick up a few fresh items. You may also notice a bag of cookies in the picture. Though some may frown on this, I wanted to show that cookies in moderation are ok; this was the very last item I picked up … and they were on sale.  A few of the more nutritious items I picked-up, include: frozen vegetables, fresh bananas, low-fat yogurt, skim milk (99-cent half gallons), oatmeal, eggs and potatoes. I also went with whole wheat when my budget allowed.

I learned a few things during my shopping trip:


Total food purchase was $31.06. I shopped Fareway so I could take advantage of their campaign to end hunger from September 16 – 21st. You’ll see, I completed the $5 pledge card for the Iowa Food Bank Association – it is listed as the last item on the receipt.

  1. In order to maximize SNAP dollars, budgeting and meal-planning is essential. I did not plan meals, nor did I carry a calculator. After keeping track of meals and tracking a running balance in my head, I was ready for a nap.
  2. The most nutritious food is the most expensive!  I understood this before but did not fully realize the impact until I worked with a definite budget.
  3. Prioritizing and cost-benefit analysis is present in every decision. Do I want to spend an extra $1.49 on whole wheat bread when I can get white for $1.27? Should I just get boxed macaroni and cheese for $0.88 or spend another $2.00 on noodles and sauce? Do I have room in my budget for fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables/fruit? I found myself running all over the store trying to decide on the best combination.
  4. Maybe the toughest challenge I encountered was seeing other parents/families with a cart full of food – much of the food did not seem to be a necessity. I shopped alone. I can’t imagine the feeling if my two young daughters were with me. It would be difficult to explain why we couldn’t get chocolate milk or ice cream.

It has been a difficult week eating what I purchased, but I am managing. I am managing to keep myself upright over the course of four days. Too many families have to sustain this real-life challenge for months at a time. These families – the children, adults, and seniors – that have to live with this every day deserve better! Hunger doesn’t have a face. Hunger lives in our community, in our schools, in our neighborhood. Individually, I can’t solve hunger, but together – as one united force – we can sure start a movement. Will you join me in the fight against hunger? It’s time we all have equal access to food.

Written by Cory Berkenes, State Director of the Iowa Food Bank Association.