The manager of an eastern Iowa food bank says her big wish would be to provide more beef and chicken to those who need food assistance through a local pantry.

“I would love to have a plethora of meat available,” says Kim Guardado, the food reservoir director for Hawkeye Area Community Action Program in Hiawatha. “We always say for donations we’d like to have peanut butter and canned fish, canned chicken and all of those things, but honestly I’d really love to have tubs of ground beef and ground chicken and whole chickens and parts of chickens that we can provide. That is something that’s often limited at pantries because there just isn’t enough meat available.”

Food bank managers say donations from meat processors have declined, due to inflation and supply chain issues, plus USDA meat shipments have decreased since mid-2020. In the first year of the pandemic, the USDA spent $4 billion buying meat and other food from hundreds of private companies as schools and restaurants closed — and shipping it to food banks. That was six times the normal budget for the agency’s food box program.

A year ago, the USDA launched a $400 million initiative to help food banks and schools buy locally-produced food. Guardardo says she’s trying to buy more fresh food for her Hiawatha-based food bank.

“We’re really focusing on having more healthy options available,” Guardardo says. “Locally grown items as well, but I would love to be able to have potatoes, tomatoes, green peppers, onions and carrots available every day.”

But she says produce is expensive and her food bank’s budget is pinched. Its budget for buying food has skyrocket — just as it serves about 40 percent more people than it did last year. Guardardo made her comments during taping of “Iowa Press” which airs tonight on Iowa PBS.

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