April 18, 2015

Food pantry software created by Iowans wins national award

Grant Nelson and Maria Belding.

Grant Nelson and Maria Belding.

Computer software developed by two young Iowans to help food pantries feed the needy has won a national contest and more than $60,000 to further develop and market their product.

Maria Belding of Pella and Grant Nelson of Des Moines created the MEANS Database, an online system enabling food pantries to communicate with each other and their donors to prevent waste.

This week, the pair beat out more than 100 other applicants to win the George Washington University Business Plan Competition. “We became the first-ever non-profit to win,” Belding says. “We were very, very surprised that we won because almost all of the judges were venture capitalists and bankers and investors and people whose world and whose minds operate around ‘How can I make the most profit?’ and ‘How can I grow a business?’ and we’re not a business, we’re a non-profit.”

Belding is a 19-year-old freshman at American University, while Nelson is a second-year law student at GW. Belding says the money will help give the MEANS Database a significant boost in developing better technology, understanding the law and refining its analytics. Also, a welcome change, they can start to pay some staff members.

“I get to work for MEANS full-time this summer in Washington, D.C., which is fantastic,” Belding says. “I get to spend all summer feeding people which makes me incredibly happy. It’s the best summer job a girl could have. We’re also going to get to work with other college students who are helping us out right now. We’re going to get to buy their time this summer and just really pound the pavement on outreach.” MEANS stands for Matching Excess And Need for Stability. It lets food pantries post information about surplus supplies on a website that can be searched by other organizations serving the hungry.

The database was created after Belding had a discouraging experience when she was in high school and volunteering for her church’s food pantry in Pella. “We had another church give us a year’s worth of macaroni and cheese which is awesome,” Belding says. “Less awesome was that it was macaroni and cheese which we already had a literal wall of in the basement. We ended up having to throw a bunch of it out when it expired because we couldn’t talk to the food pantries that were within the same county. We couldn’t communicate effectively.”

Hundreds of boxes had to be chucked in the dumpster, while hungry people had to be turned away in the dead of an Iowa winter.

The eventual result was the MEANS Database, which is now in use by 1,400 food pantries across Iowa and in five other states. Just this week, New York’s second-largest food pantry began using the software, which is available free at the website: www.meansdatabase.com.

Photo courtesy of George Washington University.

Audubon man dies after being trapped in grain bin

A western Iowa man has died from injuries he suffered in a grain bin accident on Thursday afternoon. The Audubon County Sheriff’s Office reports 62-year-old Gary Glen Fancher, of Audubon, died at the scene of the accident in northern Audubon County.

Fancher had entered the bin to break the corn loose from above, while unloading the bin. Authorities say they received a 911 call just before 1 p.m. about a person being trapped in the grain bin. Audubon Fire and Rescue requested assistance from the Exira, Harlan and Atlantic Fire Departments.

After extensive extrication efforts, Fancher was removed from the grain bin and pronounced dead.

(Reporting by Ric Hanson, KJAN, Atlantic)


Dog flu hitting surrounding states, but few cases reported in Iowa

Dasher-4-15-15Dog owners in Iowa are warned to be on the lookout for signs of CIV, or canine influenza virus. Outbreaks are reported in the Midwest, including in the neighboring states of Illinois and Wisconsin.

Dr. Beth Streeter, a veterinarian with the Iowa Veterinary Referral Center in Des Moines, says the so-called dog flu is a concern, but there are no big outbreaks in Iowa as yet and very few reported cases statewide.

“It’s something to be aware of and to watch pets for,” Dr. Streeter says. “It’s a little bit early to get too worried about it, other than in a proactive fashion, meaning, watching their pets for any signs of influenza and for veterinarians, being aware of the potential precautions to take with any pets exhibiting signs of influenza.” Iowans who own dogs are advised to be vigilant for signs of illness in their pets.

“A lot of people, with they hear flu, think of the (gastro intestinal) flu, and that’s actually not what’s most commonly seen,” Streeter says. “This is a respiratory virus so you’re looking for signs of cough, nasal discharge, fever and just generally not feeling well.”

More than 1,000 dog flu cases are reported in four states: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin. Much like with the human version of the flu, CIV can worsen if left untreated and become life-threatening.

“There are reports of dogs in Chicago succumbing to the illness and it can be quite serious in some pets,” Streeter says. “It’s also very contagious so we have to be very careful, if dogs do have signs of the flu, to keep them isolated and make sure they’re not exposing other pets.”

She says there is a vaccine for CIV but there are reports of complications with it. Also, this strain of dog flu may not have been included in the vaccine’s cocktail, so dogs that are vaccinated may still not be protected. Streeter suggests dog owners avoid contact with other pets they don’t know if they’re traveling in states where there are outbreaks, while limiting visits to dog parks and boarding facilities.

Quad Cities part of effort to reduce poverty

An effort to reduce poverty in the area that includes Iowa’s third largest city will take a big step forward Saturday. The Opportunities for Quad Citians Committee will match volunteer mentors with local residents who are struggling to leave poverty. Committee spokeswoman, Liz Dierolf, says 100 volunteers who’ve experienced success in their lives, called “navigators,” have been trained to offer help.

“So, that person can say, ‘you’re having trouble with this barrier to getting a job. OK, I’m going to work with my contact at the local college and we’re going to do some job searching and career coaching…and get you on the path to finding a new job,'” Dierolf said. Another volunteer with experience in health care will meet with people struggling to pay medical bills. Dierolf says the committee did a lot of research and chose a national model for eliminating poverty called “Opportunity Community.”

It was developed by Donna Beegle who grew up in poverty. “She found success through interactions with people along her path who really took time to work one-on-one with her and say, ‘OK, let’s work through particular barrier on its own and then move to the next one,'” Dierolf said. According to the most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, 18-percent of the population of Davenport is living “below the poverty level.”

The statewide rate is just over 12-percent. Opportunities for Quad Citians is funded by the United Way, and is a cooperative effort by a variety of agencies and organizations.


Five of 6 cities appeal to keep traffic cameras in place

Traffic-Cameras-in-DSM-3Five of six cities have appealed orders from the Iowa Department of Transportation to remove traffic enforcement cameras that the DOT says don’t meet their guidelines. DOT director of traffic and safety, Steve Gent, says today was the deadline for appealing.

“The Iowa DOT has received appeals from Muscatine, Cedar Rapids, Sioux City, Des Moines and Council Bluffs. And then Davenport, they’ve chosen not to appeal the automated traffic enforcement ruling,” according to Gent. The DOT asked that 10 of the 34 cameras across the state be removed after creating rules in February of 2014 that required the cities to show the use of the cameras improves safety on the state roadways where they are installed.

Gent says it will take another month to answer the appeals from the five cities who want to keep the cameras. “The Iowa DOT will evaluate the appeals, we’ll take a look at them, do any analysis that needs to be done to determine whether or not to approve the appeals,” Gent says. “That will all be done in the next 30 days.”

Motorists should note that the cities can still operate the cameras until the outcome of the appeal is decided, as Gent says the DOT won’t take any action to try and turn the cameras off during the appeal process.

If the DOT rules against the cities, they still have another step to try and keep the cameras. “The city of course can take it to district court, and then on through the court system, as anybody has those kinds of opportunities with their government,” Gent says. The cameras bring in millions of dollars in revenue to the cities and have been controversial since they began operating.



Polk City man dies in accident near Audubon

Police CarA central Iowa man was killed, two other men were hurt, in a collision Thursday night involving a pickup truck and a tractor pulling a planter. The accident happened at around 7 p.m. on Highway 71 near the intersection with 170th Street, about 2 miles north of Audubon.

The Iowa State Patrol says the driver of a 2013 Chevy pickup, 42-year-old Kurt Robert Sulzman, of Polk City, who was wearing his seat belt, died in the crash. Officials say Sulzman was traveling northbound at the same time a John Deere tractor driven by 45-year-old Cory David Handlos, of Audubon, was traveling southbound. The tractor was pulling a planter. After the vehicles collided, each ended up in the southeast ditch near the intersection.

Handlos, and a passenger in the pickup, 24-year-old Caleb Shawn Deist, of Grimes, who was wearing his seatbelt, were transported to the Audubon County. Deist was later flown by helicopter to Methodist Hospital in Des Moines.

(Reporting by Ric Hanson, KJAN, Atlantic)


White-nose syndrome found in bats in Des Moines and Van Buren counties

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo of bat with white-nose syndrome.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo of bat with white-nose syndrome.

State and federal wildlife officials say a disease known as “white-nose syndrome” has been confirmed in bats in two Iowa Counties.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources endangered species co-ordinator Kelly Poole says three bats collected in Des Moines County were confirmed to have white-nose syndrome (WNS).

“Two little brown bats and one northern long-eared bat observed near a cave entrance showed visible signs of white-nose syndrome during monitoring for the disease and were collected at that time,” Poole says. “The U.S.G.S. National Wildlife Health Center in Madison confirmed that the bats had white-nose syndrome .”

There were other indications that WNS was present in the area. “The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome was also detected on additional samples collected from the cave, which as recently as last winter, February 2014, had no visual signs of white-nose syndrome,” according to Poole.

She says WNS was also confirmed in four little brown bats collected in Van Buren County this winter after a concerned citizen reported bats flying around outside. White-nose syndrome causes bats to come out of hibernation and use up needed fat reserves that allow them to survive through the winter. It has been found to be 95-percent fatal to bats.

The fungus called “Pseudogymnoascus destructans” (P. d.) which causes the disease had previously been detected in caves at Maquoketa Caves State Park in 2011, 2012, and 2013, but it was not detected in the last two winters. Poole says they will now try to stop WNS from getting into any other areas of the state. “At this point we will be shifting our focus to making sure that we minimize the potential for spread within the state and for it leaving the state,” Poole says. She says they will continue their bio-security prevention measures and their outreach and education efforts.

WNS is spread mainly by bats, but can be spread by humans, and education efforts include ways to prevent carrying it from one area to another. Jeremy Coleman is the national white-nose syndrome coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and says the fungus is not a concern for humans.

“There is no known direct impact on human health from the disease,” Coleman says. “This is a fungus that affects bats when they are in hibernation and their bodies are close to the ambient temperature of the caves. It is a cold-loving fungus.” He says the warmth of the human body makes it highly unlikely the fungus would grow. It is estimated that 5.7 million bats have died from WNS since 2006.

Coleman says there is a great concern about how those loses will impact the ecosystem. “Bats are the primary predator of night-flying insects in many of the forests and agricultural areas where they exist, and they are known to eat crop pests and other pest species. And their loss is estimated to be at a minimum of $3.7 billion to agriculture,” Coleman says.

Iowa is the 26th state where the disease has been detected. Volunteers are needed in Boone, Clayton, Dubuque, Hamilton, Hardin, Jackson, Lucas, Marshall, Story, and Warren counties for summer volunteer programs to monitor bats.

For more information visit the DNR website at: ww.iowadnr.gov/volunteerwildlifemonitoring, or email the Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program at vwmp@dnr.iowa.gov