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The Food Bank of Iowa hosted a virtual town hall meeting on Thursday, April 18, to discuss food insecurity in Iowa and answer questions. We appreciate everyone who tuned in to our first town hall.

If you missed Michelle Book’s Virtual Town Hall, no worries! Below is the recorded Town Hall. 

If you have any further questions, please email us at contactus@foodbankiowa.org

Q & A

Can you elaborate on how people can help? What can folks do onsite since you had to reduce the number of volunteers? Are there any remote volunteer opportunities?
We need volunteers. Food Bank of Iowa runs on volunteers. We can’t move a million-plus pounds of food every month without volunteers. We can’t afford the amount of staff that would take. Immediately, we were deemed essential by the governor. We sought sanitary and safety measures so people coming to the food bank now to volunteer have to get their temperature taken, they are asked a series of questions, they wash their hands and they wear gloves and masks. The volunteers are in our volunteer center spaced appropriately. For folks that want to stay home, you can make masks for our staff, volunteers, and agencies. You can also make a T-shirt tote bag.  Last but not least, you can create notes of encouragement for hungry children and Iowans in need. 

Does Food Bank of Iowa offer weekend volunteer opportunities?
We do! We offer Saturday volunteer shifts. 

How has your (Michell Book) previous experience working in the business world help during this crisis?
I came to Food Bank of Iowa four years ago after 30 years of work in Corporate America. I have been fortunate to go through several different types of crises and emergencies with full support of a corporate environment. I’ve been blessed that my corporate employers invested in me in many different ways. The thing that’s allowed us to navigate this pandemic with a great amount of effort has been the team of people at Food Bank of Iowa. We have worked work for the last four years to get the bright people on the team in the right seats. The people that work here are passionate because they care. We have gone through a lot of training and team building and each one of the individuals here are here to support the success of one another. That is what allowed us to focus on taking care of people that are hungry.

How do you monitor inventory and how are you prepared to meet surges that we are seeing now?
Our inventory isn’t like the inventory at Hy-Vee or Fareway. We are at the mercy of donors and the USDA for over 80% of the food that comes into our distribution centers. We have a product flow team that meets every week and they understand what clients are looking for and what clients need. Members of that team are also staying in touch with our retail partners or wholesale partners and looking at what USDA food is available. They are trying to find deals for low and reduced cost food. Everything we buy, we buy by the truckload. The most expensive part of getting food is freight. If we are bringing a load across the United States of peanut butter, we want it to be a truckload. We carefully monitor what folks need. We always want to make sure we have shelf-stable protein (canned chicken, tuna, peanut butter). Our pantry partners come in and they see real-life inventory of what is available. We only have so many pallets and space available so we can’t say yes to everything. Every day we think about what is needed. 

Can you elaborate on Food Bank of Iowa’s relationship with Feeding America? What does it mean to be a member of Feeding America?
After 30 years of working corporate, coming into the Feeding America network was a really pleasant shock. Anybody will pick up the phone and share information, policies, and practices without competition. There are 200 Feeding America food banks across the United States and every county in the United States is served by one of the Feeding America food banks. In the state of Iowa, there are five food banks that are responsible for the 99 counties. We work very closely with the other food banks to make sure no Iowan has to go to bed hungry. The collaboration with the other food banks allows us to leverage more resources and to do more for the people we serve. 

How did your existing school partners adjust to an extended summer break? How has the focus of Food Bank of Iowa’s efforts changed in regards to childhood hunger?
This is a subject that’s hard for me. So many children rely on their school for 2-3 meals each and every day. When that is disrupted, those families have additional budget pressure for additional food they have to buy. During the school year, we have school pantries. We have 100 school pantries that we have established in the last four years. There isn’t a grocery store in Wapello, Iowa. There is a Dollar General. Once a week, the Dollar General gets a milk delivery and they put a sign in the window that says “milk.” Dollar General sells out of that milk within a couple of hours. There are people that live in that community that don’t have a car and can’t drive out of town to a grocery store. That school pantry in Wapello has been serving school families and has remained open through COVID-19 and through the summer. That school pantry is now taking care of the entire community. Most of our school pantry partners have continued to operate during COVID-19 and the summer. As we continue to go into the school year, we will focus on childhood hunger and feed more children. 

Is Food Bank of Iowa still accepting food donations?
Food Bank of Iowa will always accept food donations. About 50% of the food we distribute comes from food donations. As I have mentioned before, we can’t say yes to everything. When we accept the food donations, our volunteers check the labels and sort the food. 

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