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WATERLOO — Deere & Co. and the Northeast Iowa Food Bank sealed a three-year, $1.5 million partnership to close the “meal gap” Wednesday.

“It’s our privilege, and we humbly offer the community through the Iowa food bank, a million and a half dollars,” said Dave DeVault, factory manager at John Deere Waterloo Works.

Barbara Prather, executive director of the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, and Heather Bishop, manager at John Deere Engine Works, held the check amidst boxes and cans of food at the food bank warehouse.

Some funds will support staff training and development, a component of nonprofits Prather said often is forgotten. The remainder will be disbursed for programming, food access, building infrastructure, technology and overall efficiency of the organization.

The food bank has a longstanding relationship with Deere. Prather said it isn’t the first time Deere & Co. has provided funding and resources. The company also has been involved with the food bank through board membership and volunteer time.

The two organizations recently sat down to discuss what they could do to close the meal gap — the number of people who struggle with hunger but are not reached by federal nutrition programs. The food bank in 2017 announced a major effort to attack the problem.

“It’s up to the community to fill that gap,” Prather said.

Bishop said Deere supports community involvement and donates to organizations where employees volunteer, a program called Dollars for Doers.

Deere’s motto is “linked to those linked to the land,” and Bishop said the foundation translates that as “helping with world hunger.”

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“The foundation of our company is obviously we … feed and clothe the world,” DeVault said. “So this is a normal and a pretty easy connection for us to be a part of and should be in the community to help.”

Representatives from the John Deere Foundation, Deere’s Waterloo operations and the food bank gathered to exchange the check and take the opportunity to discuss food insecurity in Northeast Iowa.

The number of meals needed in 2017 in the U.S. was 8.3 million; Prather said the gap is now 7.4 million, with 43,430 people in Iowa needing meals.

“Work is not done,” Prather said. “We have to close the meal gap and keep it closed, which is no easy task.”

The food bank supports many families in need. Prather shared an instance the nonprofit provided a Thanksgiving meal for a local family who had to allocate meal expenses toward fixing a broken car.

“(The funds) will enable us to continue to provide food to people who are making tough choices of whether to pay their bills or eat,” Prather said.

DeVault said Deere continually searches for ways to give back to the broader community.

“We are part of the community; we want to stay as a piece of the fabric in this community, not the fabric,” DeVault said.

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