OTTUMWA — Hunger isn’t a stranger in Ottumwa.
If you don’t believe it, visit the Lord’s Cupboard, which is housed at First United Methodist Church, corner of Fourth and Market streets.
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin says he knows hunger and homeless people are in Ottumwa and he sent an aide to Ottumwa to meet with local nutrition advocates Tuesday.
While at the Lord’s Cupboard, Harkin Staff Assistant Nathan Vander Plaats said the senator is chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee and has recently crafted a new farm bill.
Vander Plaats said the bill is moving through Congress and if passed, would update the federal nutrition program, including food stamps.
Kris Knouf, director of the Lord’s Cupboard, said the cupboard “depends on commodities.
“We’re the only one that provides much food,” she said. “We’ve been seeing up to 59 people a day. Schools provide lunch but not all of them provide breakfast.”
April is when utilities can be cut off, Knouf said. Since April 2007 the cupboard has seen a 200 percent increase in people. She also said summer means no school and parents must provide lunch.
“Last August we served 569 people,” Knouf said. “In 2007, we served 4,837. The cupboard started in 1966 and in the first year we served three people.”
“And we started with $5,” said Kermit Schwartz, Knouf’s father. “We did clothes, too, but had to stop. We started because people getting government commodities and many of them were eating out of a can.”
Schwartz’s wife, Shirley, was one of the founders and she helped with odd jobs at the cupboard. She even washed children’s hair.
Some people have said the increase at the cupboard must be due to Hispanic newcomers. Knouf said Hispanics only account for 4 percent.
“Mostly they take care of their own,” she added.
Vander Plaats agreed. He said the typical Hispanic visit is one time and “that’s when they’re moving in.”
Jessi Milner of Ottumwa attends First Methodist and volunteers at the cupboard. She commended the congregation members for their willingness to help.
“If you say you need something, there are two or three offers right away,” she said.
Vander Plaats said Harkin “appreciates the emergency food providers” and knows it’s “always frustrating” to fund a food pantry.
“The commodities and food stamps program is funded by the Agriculture Committee and U.S. Department of Agriculture,” Vander Plaats said. “We want an idea of your need, your increases, how you operate, who is served, how often and the communities you help.”
Knouf said people come in with a voucher from the Salvation Army, Department of Human Services or the Southern Iowa Economic Development Association.
“People can come four times a year,” Knouf added.
She also said the local area isn’t a rich community and it’s “tough to get a part-time job.”
The Lord’s Cupboard also has food drives and receives both monetary and food donations.
Vernon Trucano, a First Methodist board member, said “it’s wonderful” that Hy-Vee Food Store, 1025 N. Quincy Ave., helps with day-old bread.
Vander Plaats asked if the cupboard is seeing more families or more seniors.
“Seniors. We’re seeing seniors who’ve never asked for help before,” Knouf said. “Emergencies can happen to anyone, even working people. And the price of everything is going up.”
Vander Plaats commiserated with the rising prices. He likes eggs and said a dozen costs $2.75 in the Quad Cities.
Knouf emphasized the cupboard needs more food, funding and volunteers.
After the meeting at First Methodist, Vander Plaats went to the Wapello County Courthouse to conduct a “listening post” session for Harkin.
Cindy Toopes can be reached at (641) 683-5376 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senator seeks nutrition data, local comments
OTTUMWA — Hunger isn’t a stranger in Ottumwa.
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