September 17, 2014

Western Iowa chef helps food bank with attempt of record spaghetti feed

A chef in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area has set a big goal to break a world’s record while trying to feed thousands of hungry people — in one day. Lynn Leahy is president of the non-profit organization, The Power of One, and has organized a huge spaghetti feed that will take place at 12 metro area high schools on Sunday. Leahy says all proceeds will go directly to the Food Bank for the Heartland.

“We are just a bunch of regular Joes that want to make a difference,” Leahy says. “There is so much overwhelming bad sometimes, so much in the news, how we look at politics, how divided it is, how divided everything seems to be. I wanted to pull us together just a little bit.” A recent U.S.D.A. study found about 12-percent of Iowa’s population is food insecure, meaning, they don’t always know where their next meal will come from.

The Omaha-based Food Bank for the Heartland helps stock the shelves at 285 food pantries, shelters and soup kitchens in Nebraska and western Iowa. Leahy says the Food Bank is the sole beneficiary of this weekend’s event. “We’re doing the World’s Largest Spaghetti Feed Ever,” Leahy says. “We thought in order to get everybody involved in this and to really create that atmosphere, we needed to make it a contest.”

To break the record, 17,000 plates of food will need to be served on Sunday at midday. She says everyone is welcome to have a meal and if they can make a contribution, great. “It’s a free will donation,” Leahy says. “If you don’t have any money, come eat. We really want to feed you. Our goal was for one day, in this town, no one goes hungry. No one. How realistic is that, I don’t know, but man, can I make an effort? Yeah.”

Food will be served from 11 A.M. until 3 P.M. on Sunday at high schools in Omaha, Ralston, Plattsmouth, Westside, and at Lewis Central High School in Council Bluffs. The U.S.D.A. report found 11.9 percent of Iowans are “food insecure,” missing meals or eating food that’s cheaper but with low nutritional value, just to have something to eat. Iowa is doing better than the national average of 14.6 percent.


Grassley likely to vote in favor of training troops to fight ISIS

Senator Chuck Grassley

Senator Chuck Grassley

A vote is expected in Congress this week on President Obama’s request to step up the U.S. response to militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, says he’ll likely vote in favor of the plan, which includes sending another 500 U.S. military personnel to Saudi Arabia to train and equip rebels to fight the group known as ISIS.

Grassley says, “If the American people don’t want American soldiers on the front lines in the battle against ISIS and if the people that should be on the front lines aren’t trained to do it and if we can help with that training, we should do that.” It’s also an effort by the U.S. to show it’s willing to put action behind its words, according to Grassley, and demonstrate to the world we’re serious about taking on and destroying ISIS.

“I think it also lends credibility to the other people that may be reluctant to go forward in our coalition, even though 40 countries have said so, but they have not said what they’re going to do,” Grassley says. “There’s some question of are they going to do anything?” Leaders from 30 nations met in Paris on Monday to discuss the threat from ISIS terrorists. U.S. allies pledged they’ll help Iraq “by any means necessary.”


Senator backs use of troops to stop Ebola spread

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley says President Obama’s plan to send U.S. troops into Africa to help contain the Ebola outbreak sounds like a wise, preventative move. Reports say the president today will unveil a proposal to dispatch 3,000 U.S. military personnel to West Africa to build treatment centers and to train health care personnel.

Grassley says, “Getting it under control may sound like we’re just giving foreign aid and throwing away money but it could be a good investment.” The proposal would reportedly cost $500 million, money that would be diverted from the Department of Defense for the effort.

The plan includes building 17 treatment centers in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, each with 100 beds. Grassley says, “I know $500-million is a lot of money when you have all the deficits we have but we could end up spending a lot more and the quality of life being hurt in the United States and losing a lot of lives if it did spread to the United States.”

Ebola has killed nearly 2,500 people in the region in recent months and three American aid workers contracted the virus and were brought back to the U.S. for treatment. Two were released from a hospital in Atlanta while a third is still undergoing treatment in Omaha.


Gas prices dropping as summer driving season ends

Fall arrives next week and gasoline prices are falling in Iowa. Gail Weinholzer, at Triple-A Iowa, says the average price for a gallon of self-service unleaded gas is now $3.27, that’s down a nickel a gallon from last week and down about a dime in the past month.

“Demand is dropping off now that all the kids have headed back to school,” Weinholzer says. “Our refineries are meeting demand and as a result, we have ample supply. We also have not had a significant hurricane in the Gulf Coast region to upset crude oil supply there either.”

If all continues to go smoothly, she says prices may drop another ten to 20 cents by the end of October, with a couple of variables. “When we start the switch-over from the summer- to the winter-grade fuel, supplies will tighten up just a little bit, so we could see a very short-term bump in prices,” Weinholzer says. “Again, that will be very limited. Secondly, hurricane season isn’t quite over yet in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast regions.”

Iowa’s current average gas price is 12-cents below the national average. Iowa’s most expensive gas in a metro area is in Des Moines at $3.25 while the cheapest gas is in Sioux City at $3.15.

(Reporting by Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City)


Charities will accept grain as a donation from farmers

As harvest season approaches, many charitable organizations statewide are preparing to get gifts of grain from Iowa’s farmers. Those farmers can choose to donate a portion of their stored or harvested crops and get a tax deduction at the same time.

John Syverson, a certified financial planner in West Des Moines, says there are a number of advantages to donating crops instead of cash. Syverson says, “Not only do you exclude from income the amount of the value of the grain, which works better on your tax return and gets you lower taxation in federal, state and self-employment taxes, but you also get to deduct the cost of production of that grain because you had to pay for the input.”

Syverson says rather than contacting the non-profit group or grain elevator directly, it’s usually more efficient to go to a local Community Foundation. He says most are set up to help make the donation a smooth transaction. “Instead of talking to your local Boy Scout troop, I would go talk to your Community Foundation,” Syverson says.

Just ask if they take gifts of grain and if they do, you can quickly set up an account and tell them where you want the grain dispersed. More Iowa farmers may be choosing the option this fall as many commodity prices are dropping.


Program offers help to veterans considering suicide

A new campaign offers support to veterans in Iowa who might be considering ending their own lives. It’s called “The Power of One” and it emphasizes the effect just one person, one conversation or one act can have on the life of a veteran or service member. The VA’s Caitlin Thompson encourages friends and family of Iowa veterans to know the warning signs.

“Sleeping more or less than usual, getting angry more quickly than usual, getting more withdrawn from family members or friends, or drinking more or using drugs,” Thompson says. “Really, the hallmark sign is if somebody is expressing feelings of hopelessness or saying things like people would be better off without me.”

The Iowa Department of Public Health shows 445 Iowans died by suicide in 2013, though there are no specific numbers for Iowa veterans’ suicides. Thompson says professionals are on staff at all VA medical centers in Iowa to handle this type of situation. “We also have suicide prevention coordinators at every VA around the country,” she says. “They do outreach events every month and they are the local experts in suicide prevention with veterans.”

Thompson says Vietnam-era veterans are at particular risk for suicide. Of those service members who take their own lives, 70-percent are over 50 years old. The VA is also seeing rising suicide numbers in veterans between the ages of 20 and 29. Many of those in the military who have taken their own lives haven’t even been deployed. “What we need to be aware of especially with veterans is when people are going through major transitions,” Thompson says. “We know veterans go through a lot of transitions. Major life events can be high risk periods for suicide, such as divorce or relationship issues, job loss, financial problems or legal problems.”

Veterans, current military members and their families can get help by calling the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 or by sending a text to 838255. Online chat is also available at Anyone else in the state can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK or go to


Red Cross offers blood donor app

The American Red Cross is offering a free application for smart phones that makes it easier and faster for Iowans to find a nearby blood drive. The agency’s spokeswoman Katie Marshall says it’s a free app. “You can track your donations, you can learn more about your specific blood type,” Marshall says, “and if there’s a shortage of your blood type, you’re going to get an alert saying, ‘Hey, we really need you to come in.’”

The app is available for both i-Phone and Droid users. “You can look for where the closest blood drives are in your area, you can make an appointment right there,” she says, while making blood donation goals for yourself.

Marshall says the Red Cross is the nation’s single-largest supplier of blood and now that summer vacation is over, supplies are up. “We’re seeing those high school and college drives start to pick up again,” she says. “We’re not looking at a shortage of any sort right now but the need is constant. That doesn’t mean anyone is off the hook. We need people to be donating constantly.”

Iowans who want the new Blood Donor App can download it free at