The Ottumwa Courier

Wapello County

September 24, 2013

Millions of pounds of food

OTTUMWA — The public will be allowed to see how a local nonprofit group has fed so many hungry people over the past 30 years.

“In the past 10 years, we’ve doubled how much we’ve distributed,” said Neal Abbott, executive director of the Food Bank of Southern Iowa.

Last year, he said, was 1.6 million pounds, about double the 800,000 pounds they did a decade ago.

“We have about the same number of agencies [we serve], but there are more people [in need],” Abbott said.

This year, they averaged about 2 million pounds.

Though they do not hand food out to needy individuals, the “bank” distributes supplies to the community food pantries and churches that do help individuals. In fact, there are 150 agencies spread across 13 counties that depend on the food bank in Ottumwa to help keep their shelves stocked.

The food bank was opened on June 22, 1983; the first director was Ethel Mae Champ, followed by Wayne Millard in 1985. These days, Abbott is the boss.

The Food Bank of Southern Iowa is celebrating their 30th anniversary with an open house from 1-4 p.m. Oct. 10 at 705 E. Main St., which used to be Golden Eagle Distributors.

They moved into their new building about a year ago. Though they needed a giant freezer, donations from the Legacy Foundation and John Deere made it happen. Visitors can tour the whole building, but one 1,800-square-foot spot is the most popular.

"We like to show off our new freezer, it’s 40 by 45 feet and 16 feet tall on the inside,” said Abbott. “Ten below zero is what we keep it at.”

The whole building is actually an improvement over their old place, he said, and he added that people at the open house will get to see that.

“We want them to know what our role is in [helping those in] poverty,” he said, “and we want people to understand this is a pretty good-sized operation putting out a pretty good amount of food to help hungry people.”

— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark

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