Community groups are holding meetings across Iowa to discuss strategies to reduce hunger. Conversations are focued on how to raise awareness of the prevalence of food insecurity as federal cuts to the supplemental nutrition program last fall increased the needs of many Iowans.
Cory Berkenes, state director of the Iowa Food Bank Association, says Iowa’s distribution centers are seeing record amounts of food fly off the shelves. “That was last November’s cuts, the amount those individuals would have gotten, now they’re having to find that food elsewhere,” Berkenes says. “Before those cuts in November, food banks were already really behind the demands.”
Bob Andrlik heads up the Iowa City food rescue nonprofit group, Table to Table, and says people often aren’t aware of food insecurity in their own communities. He calls it a hidden problem. Andrlik says, “Especially with the elderly and in rural communities, it’s even more hidden just because of the distance between people and the lack of their ability to get out and about.”
A recent study found 13,000 children in Linn County alone qualify for free or reduced lunch, but only 800 were served by a summer lunch program in 2012. Iowa Department of Education consultant Sandra Fiegan says those numbers are startling and need to be rectified.
“They struck everybody in a profound way for this area,” Fiegan says. “We think about Iowa being a rural state, where people don’t have this need, but it’s there.”
Federal funding is available for the Summer Food Service Program, but Fiegan says the difficulty is finding local groups to staff the initiative, hiring cooks and distributing the food.