A Hungry Grinnell
By Todd L. Reding
Here’s a challenge; skip a meal. Skip two. Try it. Avoid eating a lunch, and then a dinner, and no snacking. When the following morning comes (hopefully without waking through the night with hunger pains), take note of how you feel. Be aware of your level of performance through the day. When the time comes to eat dinner that evening; look your children in the eye and explain there is no food for them, because you had to pay the heating bill. These are everyday experiences for nearly 389,000 residents of Iowa.
Hunger, as defined by Cory Berkenes, the State Director of the Iowa Food Bank Association, is, “The lack of access, at times, to enough food for a healthy, active life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.” One measurement of the significance of hunger in our community is the number of students who qualify for the state’s “Reduced and Free Lunch Program.” Families qualify based on annual household income. For example, a family of five earning less than $36,283 qualifies for free school lunches. Currently, 150 of the 494 students at Grinnell Middle School are a part of the free lunch program. An additional 46 students are on the reduced lunch program.
The primary channel for identifying and supporting people struggling with hunger in Grinnell is the Mid-Iowa Community Action Center (MICA) located at 611 4th Ave. Here, people can receive one bag of groceries (size and content varies depending on family size) each month. They can also receive vouchers for milk and bread. Supported by the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, the center distributes food and refers interested persons to various services to aid in their efforts towards self-sufficiency. “We serve 200 to 350 families each month, which equates to 600 to 700 persons,” says Alanna Miller, family development worker. “If it were not for the contributions from our local community, we would not be able to address this level of need,” says Miller.
An alternate path for help is the Grinnell Ministerial Association. Clergy from roughly a dozen churches come together to manage a voucher program that offers food, clothing and other forms of support. If a person is deemed “in need” beyond the services MICA is able to provide, they may approach a participating church and seek a voucher. The voucher is honored by local merchants and the association is billed for the expense.
Providing the occasional bag of groceries and/or a $25 voucher for food is hardly enough to sustain a hungry family. This need was addressed again when The Social Justice Action Group, a Grinnell College student organization, decided to form a weekly meal served free-of-charge to anyone. Known as “The Community Meal”, the program celebrated its 14th year this October. “We need multiple resources to help those in need of nutritious food,” says Deanna Shorb, the organization’s advisor. “Each year The Community Meal serves hundreds of people who may not otherwise have the resources to purchase a cooked meal.” The program is funded by private donations and is not supported financially by Grinnell College. The meal is served every Tuesday at Davis Elementary School from 5:45 p.m. until 6:15 p.m.
In 2013, school administrators voiced a concern that some students were relying on the school lunch program as the primary form of their daily nourishment. In otherwords, there was a fear these children were not receiving a nutritious meal over the weekends. TigerPacks was formed by AmeriCorps Vista Program Assistant, Lucy Thomas, to provide healthy food to participating school children over weekends. Now managed by the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation, forms for participation are sent to parents by school administrators.
Non-perishable snacks are purchased from local stores and assembled into large packs by a corps of volunteers. The packs are delivered to the schools and secretly inserted into the childrens’ book bags on Fridays. Ninety-eight school children are currently participating in TigerPacks with nearly 400 packs distributed every month.
According to the National Resource Defense Council, Americans waste the equivalent of 20 lbs. of food for every citizen, every month. A new organization has emerged to address this trend and serve the hungry in Grinnell. The Food Recovery Network was formed in the fall of 2013 by Grinnell College student, Dylan J. Bondy. Involving more than 20 volunteers (mostly Grinnell College students) the program collects prepared, but not served, food from a variety of sources and directs to those potentially in need. They deliver pizza from Pizza Ranch to the Galaxy Youth Center to distribute as snacks to more than 60 kids. They deliver food from the HyVee deli to the Station Club House, feeding more than 12 residents. Professionally cooked food from the Grinnell Regional Medical Center, and the Grinnell College Dining Hall goes to the First Presbyterian Church to be served in takeout containers every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 12:15 p.m. As of the writing of this article, the group had collected and redistributed more than 3,400 lbs of food since the beginning of college classes in August.
In addition to the programs and organizations previously described, there are dozens of dinners and luncheons provided by various churches and groups. There are numerous funds among multiple foundations designated to help the hungry. The combined expenditures of the programs described in this article with the intention of helping the hungry in Grinnell is estimated to be more than $75,000 annually. When asked if this is too much, city manager Russ Behrens responded, “It’s never too much. It is a part of Grinnell’s history. We help those less fortunate; period.”
Well said Russ. Well said.
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