‘Let’s Fix Dinner” is the theme for the Northeast Iowa Food Bank’s strategic plan launched in April of this year. The plan is simple: Be an ingredient, help us provide the serving size and ensure we are in compliance and have the proper infrastructure to close the meal gap. The meal gap is defined as what government programs can’t provide for the nearly 47,000 people who are food insecure in Northeast Iowa.

In fiscal 2017, we provided more food to people in need in Northeast Iowa than we ever have before — 6.25 million meals or well over 7.2 million pounds. At the same time the number of food insecure people declined to just under 47,000 people. This is good news. You have helped us move to close the meal gap, and fewer people need our services. You have been able to help us provide more food, volunteers and infrastructure, which has enabled us to reach more people.

This work is not without challenges. One, more food is perishable and labor intensive. Much of the product we provide has to be gone through carton by carton. This takes time and volunteers. Groups like EPI, AARP-SCEP program, church groups and businesses, along with individuals, come in and do this. This keeps millions of pounds of food, which is still perfectly good, out of landfills. Secondly, when you have perishable food it has to be moved fast, which means we have to set up new avenues to distribute it because many times food pantries are not open daily and don’t have the storage to hold the product. As a result, we continue to operate mobile pantries each month and do special produce drops and distributions at member agencies and other sites.

The food bank is a complex place. There are many moving parts, coordinating food pick ups, ensuring we have enough volunteers, ensuring we have adequate funding and developing new partnerships. It takes a lot to make the food bank operate. Day in and day out, the staff and volunteers make the food bank work. Volunteers spend time during the week out on a truck picking up food or delivering backpacks. A group of volunteers puts on an event to raise money and awareness of childhood hunger each fall. Businesses like John Deere, which weekly sends a group to the food bank to sort food, pack backpacks and help in other ways. And various funding sources help us operate and bring in food to distribute it to the community. All of it makes a difference in what we do.

And due to the generosity of many in our community, we have been able to rise to the challenges and make a difference in the community. But (and you know there had to be a “but”), one of our biggest challenges comes through something we have very little control over, and that is how much Congress and our president appropriate for the Federal Nutrition Programs. It isn’t just school lunch, school breakfast, child and adult care food program and summer feeding it is also SNAP (food stamps), TEFAP (the commodity program, where we get product for people in need) and CSFP to name a few. This is the safety net. For people in need, these programs are vital to assisting them. If their funding is decreased, people will rely on us more than ever. More people will then be food insecure and the meal gap will increase.

The recipe to fix dinner is simple — be an ingredient, provide the serving size and ensure we have the proper utensils. This together, with using our voices, to ensure nutrition programs are adequately funded, will help us make a difference in the lives of nearly 47,000 people in Northeast Iowa. With everyone working together — our donors, volunteers, community groups — and ensuring we are compliant with our regulatory bodies and have the proper infrastructure, we can close the meal gap. You have already done so much to get us this far. Please help us continue to ensure that once we have closed the meal gap it will be continuously closed. On behalf of those we serve, thank you.

Barabara Prather is executive director of the Northeast Iowa Food Bank.

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