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Charity Nebbe of Cedar Falls, second from right, host of Iowa Public Television’s the “The Iowa Ingredient,” is show here from left to right, with husband Rob Parrish, daughter Audrey Parrish and son Carter Parrish.

Salvation Army dinner ensures no one has to be alone for Thanksgiving

WATERLOO — Thanksgiving is not a day to eat alone.

But, as Shannon Hersh found, someone has to be the first person to sit at a table during the Salvation Army’s annual Thanksgiving meal.

“I was actually sitting by myself and these fine people came and sat by me,” said Hersh, indicating his table mates — a mother, daughter, three grandchildren and another man.

He was “alone on the holidays, thought I’d come over here” for Thursday’s meal. Hersh, a regular at the Salvation Army’s weekday meals, returned to Waterloo a few months ago after living elsewhere. He has been staying in the men’s shelter while working in industrial maintenance at the Tyson’s meatpacking plant.

Waterloo resident Mary Fliss came with her daughter, Jessica Olmstead, as well as her two young children and another grandchild. Jeremy Wion also joined the group at the table.

“This is really our first holiday that we’ve come here,” said Fliss. She’s been “down in the dumps” lately after some health issues that kept her away from work until recently. “We’re just getting back up on our feet.”

The family showed up after someone told them about the meal served at the Salvation Army’s facility at 89 Franklin St. Fliss suggested the group around the table is “all family today” as they gathered for the meal.

“We prepare anywhere from 200 to 300 meals on Thanksgiving,” said Niki Litzel, the Salvation Army’s community resources coordinator. Attendance at the meal is “usually 200-plus,” an increase from the 100 to 200 the organization serves during its five weekly meals year-round.

“There’s a lot of people that might not have family to spend the day with, so they come here to be with our family,” she said. “It really is a family atmosphere.”

Major Lynneta Poff, who leads Waterloo’s Salvation Army with her husband, said “this becomes their family” on Thanksgiving for attendees who would otherwise be alone. In addition, “it’s a great place for folks who don’t have the money to buy the food every year.”

She added, “This has been a Waterloo Salvation Army tradition for many, many years.”

For Michele Phillips, her husband Steve, their children, and grandchildren, it’s a new tradition to help serve the Thanksgiving meal. She said about 12 or 13 of them were there Thursday. This is the second year they’ve come to the Salvation Army to volunteer.

They do it “to give back to the community,” said the Cedar Falls resident. “And we do other volunteer things.”

Adding the Thanksgiving event was “perfect” for their family and a chance to “get our teenagers out here and let them experience it,” said Phillips.

Mitchell Stover, 21, and a Wartburg College junior, is one of her older grandchildren.

“What I like about about it is the people. It’s so interesting to get stopped by someone and let them tell you about their lives,” he said. “I’m a people person, so I very much enjoy talking to everyone that walks in here.”

Stover said serving at the Salvation Army is “such a big reminder to me” not to stigmatize the sort of people who attend the meal during the rest of the year. “They just have a different socio-economic background.”

The family is among about 40 volunteers who helped this year with everything from preparation to serving.

“We’re very grateful for the volunteers who come out,” said Litzel. “We couldn’t pull this off without the community, from donations to volunteers.”

Some of the biggest donors this year were Martin Brothers and Hometown Foods, which allowed customers to donate points to the cause that they earn by shopping. “That actually helped us to provide five turkeys,” she noted.

It takes a lot of food to serve the meal each year.

“We had eight turkeys — four very large ones and four medium-size ones,” said Denise Todd, the Salvation Army’s kitchen supervisor. They made 15-20 pounds each of stuffing and instant mashed potatoes.

Additionally, they made a lot of gravy, six pans of fluff salad and plenty of green bean casserole. Between 40 and 50 pies were also on hand to be served as dessert. “Everyone will get a second slice of pie,” said Grace Fee, the Salvation Army’s social ministries coordinator.

She noted that all the leftovers will be used in the daily meal preparations for the regular feeding program during the coming days. “Last year, that program fed 68,000 meals in a year,” said Fee.

Grassley: Most Iowans will see tax cut; some reports differ

DES MOINES — They are being sold as middle-class tax cuts.

But some middle-class workers in Iowa eventually would pay more under tax law changes being considered in Congress, according to multiple reports from progressive and center-left think tanks.

With majorities in both chambers of Congress and a president in the White House, Republicans hope to check off one of their top policy goals: an overhaul of federal tax laws that includes reducing many tax rates, including for individuals and families.

The U.S. House and U.S. Senate have created separate proposals, and they hope to pass a bill and get it to President Donald Trump this year. Both bills are being advertised by the GOP as tax cuts for middle-class workers.

“What Iowans need to know is taxes under the Republican plan are going to be cut for the middle class,” Ronna McDaniel, the national Republican Party chairwoman, said during a recent interview in Des Moines.

Not everyone agrees.

In Iowa over 10 years, middle-class workers — the middle 20 percent of wage earners — will on average see an overall tax increase of $40 per year under the Senate bill, according to the progressive Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. The poorest 20 percent will see an increase of $70 and the second 20 percent an increase of $60.

While those are modest increases, they are not tax cuts, as the proposals are advertised.

“The point is not the size of the increase at those levels, but the fact that those taxpayers cannot expect any, or any substantial, tax benefit,” Anne Discher, interim director of the nonpartisan Child and Family Policy Center in Des Moines, said in a report filed by the progressive Iowa Policy Project, which has been critical of the tax cut proposals.

Over the same period, the top 1 percent of wage earners will see a $4,770 tax reduction, according to the institute.

That is not the only independent report to reach such a conclusion.

Taxes would go up on nearly two-thirds of U.S. middle class workers — by an average of $140 per year — under the Senate bill, according to a Nov. 20 report by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

Nearly a third of the poorest 20 percent also would see an increase, as would more than half of the second 20 percent of wage earners.

The Tax Policy Center’s findings were similar when analyzing the House bill in a Nov. 13 report, under which 30 percent of U.S. middle class workers and 13 percent of the poorest would see tax increases.

Both analyses of the Senate bill take into account its repeal of the mandate that most individuals carry health insurance. Economists say repealing the mandate — and the tax penalty for those who do not — will drive up costs for low-income individuals who obtain insurance through the federal marketplace.

By contrast, 83 percent of the top 1 percent of wage earners — and 98 percent of the top .1 percent of wage earners — will see tax reductions under the Senate bill, according to the Tax Policy Center.

Under the House bill, 71 percent of the top 1 percent would see a tax reduction.

“A weekend of further scrutiny by responsible analysts shows just how much this legislation is skewed toward the wealthy and most powerful,” Mike Owen, executive director of the Iowa Policy Project, said in the organization’s analysis. “When you look beyond the early years of this plan, you see that low- and middle-income Iowans are whacked by this plan in 2027. They’ll pay more in tax, on average, and many will have lost their health insurance while millionaires, billionaires and corporations bank the benefits.”

The GOP tax overhaul proposals have been unpopular in public opinion polls. Just 30 percent of Americans support the proposals, according to an averaging of multiple national polls, calculated by George Washington University political scientist Chris Warshaw.

That level of public support is lower than any major piece of federal legislation passed in the past 30 years, and is higher only than the same GOP Congress’ failed health care overhaul proposals from earlier this year, according to Warshaw’s research.

Despite the low approval ratings and the multiple reports that show some middle-class and low-income taxpayers could eventually pay more, Iowa’s Republicans in Congress, like most of their GOP colleagues, are defending the tax overhaul bills.

Charles Grassley, Iowa’s senior U.S. senator, did not dispute the reports’ findings, but said most Iowans will see a tax cut.

“While every individual case is different, on average, income groups across the board will experience a tax cut. That includes the vast majority of Iowans,” Grassley said in an emailed response to questions. “Common sense measures, like doubling the child tax credit and the estate tax exemption, will give a hand up to taxpayers, family farmers and business owners. It will let people keep more of their own money instead of sending it to Washington.”

Many Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, a Republican from eastern Iowa, argue the economy will grow as a result of the tax cuts, and that will boost incomes and overcome losses projected in the analyses.

“(Economic growth) following tax reform, proven by both the Kennedy and Reagan administrations, will reignite our economy, create jobs, and increase wages through competition for labor,” Blum said in an emailed response.

Blum also said Congressional rules require some tax cuts to be phased out after 10 years, but he is “very confident” those cuts, years down the road, will be extended before they are phased out.