Food Banks at the Center of Hunger Efforts
Backbone organizations help communities tackle complicated problems by bringing people together and helping new groups plug-in and become part of the solution. When it comes to hunger in Iowa, Food Banks are well-placed to serve as backbone organizations. While Food Banks can’t solve hunger alone, their networks of partner-organizations, volunteers, advocates and resources across the areas they serve put them in a position to serve as conveners and match-makers among hunger initiatives in their regions of Iowa.
The Northeast Iowa Food Bank leverages its status as a backbone organization through a constant focus on community outreach, being present at a large number and variety of community events, and aggressively publicizing their activities and those of their partner organizations.
Barb Prather, Executive Director of the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, provides more details:
“A look at the Northeast Iowa Food Bank….
I was asked recently, how the Northeast Iowa Food Bank became the center point for hunger in northeast Iowa, so I paused to reflect on where we have come from over the past 30 plus years of existence.
The Food Bank began, as a food pantry, in 1981. Businesses were downsizing and closing in Black Hawk County and many people were in need. At the same time, nationally Second Harvest-now called Feeding America, began. Their purpose was to rescue food from manufacturers that was going in the dump and get it to people who need it. Food Banks serve organizations, food pantries serve people. So in the beginning, locally, the Food Bank had a pantry that served Black Hawk County and was the first point of contact for people who needed food in our community. It then began serving nonprofit organizations in 16 counties.
The key to the Food Bank’s success from the start has been community collaboration. From the beginning we partnered with the community to pick up food donations and distribute it to people in need. When we started each of our programs, first the food pantry and then the food bank, we needed both food donors and community organizations. We also needed the community to support us with additional food, funding and volunteers.
Since 2000, we have really made great strides in combating hunger and building community partnerships. Kids Café was a partnership started with ConAgra and the Boys and Girls Club; the BackPack Program started as a partnership with the schools, United Way, John Deere and community groups; the Elderly Nutrition Program started as a partnership with Area Agencies on Aging; Mobile Pantries partner with community groups and this summer our new Community Garden was a partnership with UNI. These, however, are the big picture view of the collaboration and partnerships we have started and continued.
Through the years these have been sustained because of the work of many, whether it is a study or in the action we take to get the message across. Conducting Hunger Studies, advocating for a strong nutrition title in the Farm Bill and sharing the Feeding America and USDA studies are tools used to raise awareness. We use these when we talk about the Food Bank and do presentations, giving tours of the Food Bank, providing volunteer opportunities, networking with businesses, churches and the community, and being a resource on hunger issues in the community has helped us to increase awareness and be a strong voice for the people we serve. The Food Bank can’t do what we do alone, it takes all of us. We have strived to not only provide food but to be a resource to educate the community that hunger does exist.
As a result of this work, when it comes to hunger related issues and research, the community calls the Food Bank. When we have a volunteer need, the community answers our call. Giving the community, facts, information and ways to help make a difference on how the community will respond. We have spent a lot of time letting the community know what we do and marketing our mission and resources we have to assist in reducing food insecurity in northeast Iowa. The community wants to help and we have provided them a venue for helping. As a result, for resources are gathered so we can provide more programs and make a difference.
The Northeast Iowa Food Bank continues to provide the best service we can to the community and those in need. We are only limited by the resources we are given. From starting as a food pantry providing a few thousand pounds of food to becoming a hunger relief organization that provides food to many and hunger education to the community, we continue to strive to live out our mission. We want to provide as much information as we can to the community and continue to be the resource on the hunger issue in northeast Iowa. In doing so, those who need food and who need assistance will have it because we were able to be a resource for them.”
More information about the eight Food Banks serving Iowa is available through the Iowa Hunger Directory.
Photo Credits: Ameriprise Financial supports the Northeast Iowa Food Bank through volunteering and monetary donations (top), This fall, students collected over 34,000 pounds of food for the Northeast Iowa Food Bank (bottom)