Courier Staff Writer
When they heard their neighbors were hungry, Wapello County residents started to respond.
“The day after the story [on our empty shelves] ran ... someone was waiting outside with a check when I came in in the morning,” said Neil Abbott, executive director of the Food Bank of Southern Iowa.
Residents struggling financially can normally get some emergency groceries at local food pantries. Those pantries get the bulk of their food from that central food bank in Ottumwa. That’s how the Food Bank of Southern Iowa program helps get food to senior citizens, disabled residents and the homeless in southeast Iowa.
The food bank hadn’t needed to ask for much money in the past. Corporate sponsors and government commodities (the “cheese” program) were able to fill much of the food bank supply requirements. Those programs have died off.
But when the cereal companies stopped donating, others stepped up to the plate, including local businesses and schools over the past few weeks. Individuals, too, have donated over the past several weeks, some writing checks for $1,000, others bringing in $100 in cash.
“People have been catching on to what [money] can do,” said Abbott.. “They get more bang for their buck — their money goes further.”
“Last month, the shelves were less than half full,” he said.
He estimates in November, the warehouse held 40-45 percent of what the area’s hungry needed. As of Monday, the warehouse was approaching 75 percent capacity.
Abbott originally admitted he was uncomfortable asking for money, but when he explained the situation publicly, people got it, he said.
When charitable residents stop at the food bank to make a $5 donation, they are, in a way, buying 70 pounds of food for the needy.
He said at the time that if people knew, they would be stunned at how much food gets donated when they give a few dollars to the food bank.
For 79 cents, a caring shopper can get a can of green beans for the food bank. Or a shopper can choose to give that money to the food bank instead. For 79 cents, Abbott can order just over five pounds of food.
After the Courier ran his story last month, he said, tons of food and more than $10,000 has been donated to the food bank. That’s not counting the $100,000 gift made by the Legacy Foundation, which will be spent to buy rare bulk items like milk, then sold to food pantries at the food bank’s cost.
“Our goal isn’t making more money, our job is feeding hungry people,” he said.
Thanks to the people of southeast Iowa, Abbott said, they’ve been able to start getting back to that job in a big way.
For more information, contact the organization at foodbankofsoutherniowa.org or call 641-682-3403.