By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
A regional food bank, a parish meal site/food pantry and another food pantry that serve people in the Diocese of Davenport are striving to pivot to meet needs in a stubbornly persistent time of inflation and supply chain challenges.
“We are not distributing as much food as in 2021-early 2022,” said Liz Dierolf, director of marketing and communications for River Bend Food Bank based in Davenport. However, “with inflation persisting and our food donations down at River Bend, it is difficult to say whether the need has increased significantly over 2022.” River Bend Food Bank serves 23 counties in eastern Iowa and western Illinois.
“We generally see a higher need in the summer due to kids being out of school and unable to get free breakfasts and lunches. Without relief from high food prices in the near future, we’re anticipating steady increases of guests and their children visiting our pantries over the next few months,” Dierolf said.
Higher food costs coupled with reduction in SNAP benefits increased the number of guests at pantries in River Bend’s service area.
“We have very generous communities and we could not do the critical work we do without the individuals, businesses and organizations that support us through monetary and food donations.” However, “food donations decreased significantly last year — by around 40% — and we are still not seeing donations from manufacturers, distributors and retailers come back up to previous years’ levels. Producers and retailers are becoming leaner and more efficient with their products, based on consumer behavior and residual supply chain issues,” Dierolf said. “If you don’t see a product in the store, then there definitely isn’t enough to be donated to the food bank. As a result, we have had to use reserve funds and more monetary donations to purchase more food than we ever have in the past to keep up with the need that has increased since the pandemic began.”
River Bend has great partnerships with the USDA and other national and regional manufacturers and distributors but “costs all around have increased and we are spending significantly more to supplement,” she said. The more rural areas in River Bend’s service area are experiencing higher food insecurity rates than in urban communities, she added.
McAnthony Window and pantry at St. Anthony Parish in Davenport saw demand for its services increase more than 40% so far in 2023. The week of April 24-28, “we saw the largest single week in numbers at our meal site in recent history,” said John Cooper, pastoral associate and business manager. Volunteers served 787 meals that week with one record-setting day of 169 meals. “We anticipate these numbers to continue to increase.”
The food pantry, which opened during the COVID pandemic, operates Monday through Friday from 9-11 a.m. and offers a mobile pantry in the parish center on the last Sunday of the month after the Spanish Mass, Cooper said. The pantry has maintained a good stock of items through strong support from parishioners, neighboring parishes and some grant-funding organizations. Meat, milk and egg prices have come down. “When the price of certain items goes up a lot we have to pivot to other items that have not gone up.”
McAnthony pantry guests receive one bag of food per person, per day. “Many people come back every day,” Cooper said. “People are often shocked to hear our numbers from last year.” McAnthony Window served 28,141 meals, the pantry served 52,210 people and the parish distributed 24,874 bus tokens, $600 in laundry cards, 800 $20 Hy-Vee gift vouchers for Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys or hams and provided countless basic toiletries and clothing items.
“Based on what we are experiencing in the first four months of 2023, our end of year numbers will be much larger,” Cooper said. We don’t feel good about these numbers, but we are thankful that through the generosity of our parishioners, parishioners from other parishes, the community and, most importantly the grace of God, we are able to be here to help meet this need.”
Susan Knox with the Ecumenical Cupboard in Oskaloosa, sponsored by Church Women United, said uncertainty with the economy, unemployment and underemployment are large factors that have led to increased pantry usage.
Due to increased demand, the cupboard now allows people to pick up food monthly instead of every other month. The cupboard, open three days weekly for two hours each day, also offers hygiene items. Food distribution depends on family size and items available.
Financial and food donations increased in November and December, but otherwise remain steady. Twice a week, a truck from Feeding America delivers 1,000 pounds of food. The Ottumwa Food Bank sends a truck monthly with items such as frozen and refrigerated items. “When fresh produce is available, it is shared with other not-for-profits to make sure food is not wasted. The same goes for bakery goods,” Knox noted.