By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
High food and gas prices, along with a significant reduction in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits have led to increased demand at food pantries throughout Iowa.
Early in the pandemic in 2020, food pantries saw a 50% increase in patrons compared to pre-pandemic. That was equal to demand during the 2008-09 recession, said Liz Dierolf, director of marketing and communications with River Bend Food Bank based in Davenport.
As COVID-19 restrictions lifted, demand decreased. However, since April this year, demand has increased by 60% at some sites and has increased overall throughout the 23-county region in Iowa and Illinois that River Bend Food Bank covers.
Kaila Rome, executive director of the North Liberty Food Pantry, said the pantry has seen a “huge increase” of nearly 80% from June 2021 to June 2022. The percentage is higher than June 2020 as well.
The dramatic drop in SNAP benefits starting in April this year to pre-pandemic levels has had the biggest effect. Along with that, increasing prices overall has resulted in new families seeking food pantry assistance for the first time.
Larry Christ, president of St. Vincent de Paul food pantry in Burlington, said the number of patrons is higher than pre-pandemic numbers — most months. In the first six months of 2022, 439 new families visited the pantry. During all of 2021, the pantry added 580 families. “If this trend continues, we could see more than 1,000 families. We serve anyone who asks for food.”
At St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, usage is on the rise at the food pantry, which is expanding its services to meet the needs of patrons. John Cooper, the parish’s pastoral associate, said, “We had been dabbling in providing food pantry-type food during McAnthony Window (meal site) hours prior to the pandemic. During the pandemic, we opened a food pantry from the windows of the parish center using donated food from parishioners and the Knights of Columbus and Our Lady of Victory Parish (in Davenport). We eventually moved the pantry to our maintenance building. In July of 2020, we were approved as a River Bend Food Bank partner organization.”
In May 2021, the pantry served 2,340 persons compared with 3,425 in May 2022. “People are just having trouble making ends meet. We have many families coming to us to help them get by month to month.”
McAnthony Window also offers toilet paper and hygiene supplies, clothing and bus tokens. Each month, the parish offers a mobile Hispanic food pantry after the last Spanish Mass. With increased demand comes an increased need for volunteers and financial donations to purchase food.
Dierolf has seen a 40% decrease in food donations to River Bend and a 20% increase in the amount of money needed to purchase food. The decrease in donations is partly due to increased food costs, so people aren’t necessarily grabbing an extra can to donate. Another challenge is a shortage of certain food items to stores. If inventory is down, businesses don’t have as much to donate to River Bend and other pantries. “We can purchase directly from manufacturers, but costs are up,” she said.
Fewer volunteers are assisting because many people have not returned since the pandemic began or chose to do volunteer work elsewhere. Volunteers can work at the warehouse to pack boxes and many pantries can use additional help as well.
Rome said only about half of her volunteers returned since the pandemic began. North Liberty Food Pantry has six paid staff members and around 200 volunteers. “I need 250 volunteers to function much better.”
Divine Mercy Parish in Burlington and area business in the Burlington-West Burlington community have helped support St. Vincent de Paul over the years. “They are a blessing. God has made sure we are there to serve the poor,” Christ said. But additional donations and volunteers are always needed.
Volunteer numbers have grown at McAnthony Window as the number of people seeking food has grown, but Cooper would welcome more volunteers. Needs include helping to sort clothes, distributing clothes and bus tokens and working at the McAnthony Window meal site and the food pantry. He also has “ministers of presence” to mingle with patrons and musicians who perform during hours of operation.
Support area pantries
• River Bend Food Bank, Davenport, (563) 345-6490, https://riverbendfoodbank.org
• North Liberty Comm-unity Pantry, North Liberty, (319) 626-2711, https://
• St. Vincent de Paul Pantry, Burlington, (319) 752-9332, https://tinyurl.com/
• McAnthony Window pantry (at St. Anthony Parish), Davenport, (563) 322-3303, https://tinyurl.com/
• Contact your parish or local food pantry