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Food Banks, Pantries Try To Keep Up With Demand

Courtesy of Northeast Iowa Food Bank
People can drive up to a food pantry at Northeast Iowa Food Bank in Waterloo and get boxes of food loaded into their cars.

Some Iowa food banks and pantries are changing the way they operate to keep up with demand and help people access food while they’re home from work and school because of COVID-19.
Northeast Iowa Food Bank in Waterloo has been packing boxes with frozen and non-perishable food. It distributes those to local pantries. The food bank also has a pantry on site. Executive Director Barb Prather said people drive up to the pantry and give their name, address and the number of people in their household.

“Everybody gets a non-perishable box that weighs about 36 to 40 pounds, and then a perishable box that weighs similar,” Prather said. “And then, we put that directly in their car after we’ve taken their registration. They don’t have to sign anything.”

The boxes have included frozen pork, frozen chicken, fish, and canned goods, among other things.

Prather said before the food bank shifted its operations because of COVID-19, families could come to the on-site pantry and choose what food they wanted. Northeast Iowa Food Bank also has trucks driving out to communities, serving as mobile pantries. Staff are adding more, based on the need. Prather said Northeast Iowa Food Bank is doing a mobile food pantry in Charles City Wednesday, because the food pantry there closed.

“We’re trying to identify where the gaps are, and go in and provide food to those areas,” Prather said.

Prather said “it’s hard to say” how much food Northeast Iowa Food Bank distributed in March, but she hopes to have better data next month. She said they’ve seen a roughly 10 to 15 percent increase in families and other clients coming to the food bank.

Meanwhile, the Food Bank of Siouxland in northwest Iowa reports that it distributed a record amount of food last month. The food bank distributed 382,000 pounds of food to local pantries, homeless shelters and other agencies in March. It shattered its record from October – 275,000 pounds of food. Food Bank of Siouxland Executive Director Linda Scheid said even people who have never been food insecure before are struggling because of COVID-19.

“It’s connected to individuals that don’t have a paycheck this Friday or next Friday,” Scheid said. “It’s connected to families that are at home, eating three meals a day, have their children home because they’re not in school, three meals a day. And all of a sudden they just don’t have the wherewithal to go buy everything they need and take care of themselves and their families.

Scheid said because the food bank has been distributing more pounds of food than normal, staff have been looking to bring more food in, but some of the normal sources of food are stressed because of the global pandemic.

“Retail stores, for example, might not have as much to give because they don’t have as much in their stores. They’ve been wiped out by the increase in demand at the store as well,” Scheid said.

She continued, “So the supply chain is changing at the same time that the demand is changing. That’s kind of a tough spot to be in.”

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.