WATERLOO | Chris Soules, a farmer from Arlington, is identified by most people as the star of the 19th season of ABC television series "The Bachelor."
Soules identifies himself as a farmer.
"I learned early in life, you've got to stick with your passions in life," Soules said. "Agriculture is my passion."
That's why Soules has partnered with Feeding America, the nation's largest hunger-relief organization, to see what he can do, as a producer and celebrity, to combat hunger. On Friday, Soules toured the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, a Feeding America member organization.
"After I was done with the show, there was a level of fame I fell into and a platform I've been given," he said. "There's a lot of stuff, good causes, to be involved in out there; this stays true to what I believe in."
The Northeast Iowa Food Bank partners with 200 agencies in a 16-county area of Northeast Iowa to provide food for those in need. Last year, the food bank distributed about 7.2 million pounds of food and helped more than 47,000 people.
"That shocked me," Soules said. "I never realized we had that much food insecurity."
Barb Prather, executive director of the food bank, showed Soules the food bank's operations: a pantry that serves Black Hawk County residents, its loading docks, a retail store for its partner agencies and the 20,000-square-foot warehouse.
"Holy cow," Soules said when he walked into the warehouse.
The tour took a little longer than scheduled as staff and volunteers asked to have their picture taken with Soules. He cheerfully cooperated with each request.
"This tour's going to take all day," joked Nikki Litzel, food bank development director.
Prather said Soules' interest in the food bank's operations was genuine and beneficial.
"What we do is all about awareness," Prather said. "To see somebody like Chris step up and do something might encourage other people to do the same."
The food bank coordinates and works with about 5,000 volunteers per year, Prather added.
"How do you manage all those people?" Soules asked.
"Thankfully it's not all at once," Prather said.
Soules' farm in Fayette County is in the area served by the Northeast Iowa Food Bank. His family farms about 5,000 acres of corn and soy beans and has a 25,000-head hog-feeding operation. Soules said had he no idea until recently that food he and other farmers produce across the country isn't reaching people in his own community.
"We take a lot of pride and champion ourselves in feeding the world and feeding America," Soules said. "This is new to me to know 48 million Americans are food insecure."
Prather said the need for the food bank continues to grow and although awareness is also rising, resolve from political leaders to address the need is absent.
"They come in here, praise what we're doing and then leave," Prather said. "They don't take a stand."
"Why do you think that is?" Soules asked.
"It's not a hot-button issue," Prather said.
After the tour, Soules helped sort donated food items with other volunteers. Soules said he would be willing to continue to work to help promote the food bank, its partner organizations and perhaps lend a hand for an upcoming public event.
"This is important," he said. "I'd be glad to help out."