By Barb Arland-Fye, Anne Marie Amacher and Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
In just three hours on April 19, parishioners of Our Lady of Victory in Davenport delivered the goods. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Divine Mercy Sunday, they drove to the parish parking lot to drop off bags, boxes and individual canned goods — a total of 2,600 pounds of nonperishable food items — for McAnthony Window in Davenport. They also donated $2,800 for the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Rice Bowl campaign and $800 for River Bend Foodbank.
The parishioners’ generosity represents one example of people in the Diocese of Davenport responding to the needs of others who are suddenly out of work or otherwise struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The effort began simply enough. “We needed to collect our Rice Bowls,” the parish’s pastor, Father Jake Greiner, said, referring to the annual Lenten campaign held in parishes nationwide to support CRS’ hunger-fighting efforts. The suspension of Mass during the coronavirus also eliminated the weekly collection of Rice Bowl donations.
Father Greiner asked the parish’s Knights of Columbus to help organize and operate a drive-through collection of Rice Bowls in the parking lot, maintaining the required social distancing and other safety measures. The Knights suggested collecting canned goods as well to help feed the hungry locally.
Our Lady of Victory began a social media blitz six days before the collection and parishioners responded. “So many things are so much harder to do (because of the pandemic), and some are happening as if the Holy Spirit worked to make it happen,” Father Greiner said.
He and seven other men dropped off the food that same day at St. Anthony Parish, which operates McAnthony Window for the hungry. The window, shut down for two weeks because of an individual who tested positive for the coronavirus, reopened April 20, said John Cooper, the parish’s pastoral associate and business manager.
“I was literally speechless at all they had brought in,” Cooper said. “As we got ready to reopen Monday, it gave me a lot of hope that we’re going to be able to work together to respond to the needs that people are going to have in the days ahead. … It was a real shot in the arm to have that.”
Foodbank sees rising demand
Mike Miller, president and CEO of River Bend Foodbank, a recipient of Our Lady of Victory’s generosity, said demand is up nationwide for food. High unemployment and underemployment and many schools unable to serve meals to school-aged students during the day contribute to that demand. Changes have also been made in operations at food banks and food pantries for the safety of employees and volunteers in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Coupled with the increased demand has been a disruption in the supply chain, which affects food purchases for distribution, Miller said. River Bend Foodbank identifies itself as the largest hunger relief organization in eastern Iowa and western Illinois with a mission of leading a community-wide effort to end hunger in Iowa and Illinois.
River Bend receives 70% of its food from donations, 20% from the government and 10% by purchasing. A huge disruption in the supply chain means that it costs more for River Bend Foodbank to purchase food. Previously, the foodbank could get five meals for every dollar spent. Now it costs 63 cents per meal. “Our costs to purchase have tripled,” Miller said.
Some of the food pantry sites that receive food from River Bend Foodbank have seen demand wane while others have seen it skyrocket. Miller said a pantry in Monmouth, Illinois, that previously served around 20 patrons now serves 200. “We sent a truck full of food.”
While the foodbank has stopped using volunteers for their safety and the staff’s safety, Miller said volunteers will be needed in the future. He encourages them to sign up on the foodbank’s website.
Feeding the hungry offsite
The food pantry at The Center in Davenport, which Sacred Heart Cathedral serves, has been closed temporarily since April 1 for staff’s safety and because of the temporary relocation of people in need of shelter to the north end of town, said Deacon Dan Huber. He said the people who have been relocated have been encouraged to stay put for their safety. They are receiving food by other means, he said.
Café on Vine in Davenport, in collaboration with Humility Homes and Services Inc., and the Salvation Army, is preparing breakfast and lunch daily to take to people who have been relocated to two north-side hotels. The café serves approximately 92 people daily at the hotel, in addition to the 80 individuals who pick up take-out meals at the café, said Lauri Jones, the kitchen manager. The dining room is closed because of the pandemic. While fewer volunteers are assisting, out of concern for their health and that of loved ones, “we’re getting a lot of donations,” Jones said. She has enough volunteers at the present time. Donations continue to be welcome, especially financial donations and ready-to-eat items such as canned soup and spaghetti that don’t require added water and can be heated up. “God definitely has his hand in this,” she said.
Larry Christ, who serves at St. Vincent de Paul pantry in the basement of St. John Catholic Church in Burlington, said pantry visits were up for the first three months of the year. But since the pandemic, the numbers have dropped. He expects demand to rise significantly as the economy opens up more and people start moving around. Cooper and Deacon Huber also raise concerns about future demand for food assistance, the result of growing unemployment and bills coming due.
Volunteers still serve at St. Vincent de Paul, but some who are older have chosen to stay home to protect themselves or a loved one with health issues. “We have masks and gloves for those who do come,” Christ said.
Knoxville sees new faces at food pantry
Chuck Galeazzi, a member of St. Anthony Parish in Knoxville, is the volunteer director of Helping Hands Food Pantry in Knoxville, which serves about 300 families in Marion County. Since the pandemic began, two additional food pantries have opened up in the community — one at a church and one at the local high school — to help families whose incomes have been affected. The number of people seeking assistance twice a month at Helping Hands remains about the same, but the faces are different, Galeazzi said. Stimulus money has helped local residents purchase food on their own, but he knows that money will run out eventually, so he’s “bracing for the next round,” which may include an increased number of families in need of support.
To stock the pantry, Galeazzi purchases food at reduced rates from Food Bank of Iowa and receives donations from Walmart’s Feeding America program. Recently, he has noticed changes in the supply. In mid-April, he was not able to get fresh produce from Food Bank of Iowa, and Feeding America cut in half the number of meat products it donated. He thinks that might become a trend as supply chains are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, he has faith that the people served by the food pantry will continue to get what they need. In the pantry’s nearly 40-year history, community members have always come through in tough times, he said. Earlier this month, he went on the local radio station and put out social media blasts to encourage community members to donate toilet paper, hand sanitizer and homemade masks, and they responded.
He anticipates a similar response if the meat and produce supply continues to dwindle. In the case of produce, he plans to ask community members to plant gardens and share the bounty with the food pantry. Hormel and 3M’s local factories have offered monetary support, and community members have opened their pockets, as well. “This is a very giving community if you just get the word out,” he said.
The foodbank, food pantries and meal sites contacted for this story said financial donations are appreciated and will help to feed the hungry now and in the future.
You can find most hunger-fighting organizations on the internet.
“We are an Easter people,” Deacon Huber said. He encourages people to live simply, pray for those in need and contribute.