Courier Staff Writer
The Food Bank of Southern Iowa opened an early Christmas present Friday morning.
The Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation granted $100,000 to kickstart the food bank’s new initiative, a “Revolving Food Fund,” which will allow them to purchase staple foods and food from wholesalers to re-sell to pantries at discount prices. The net difference means the fund will be continually replenished and self-sustaining, thus the term “revolving.”
“It will help us put our plans into action to effectively and immediately fill shelves for the 13 counties we serve to relieve hunger,” said food bank board president Cheryl Steffen.
A food consortium of organizations throughout the community will help the food bank to “attack the food insecurity that’s abounding in our 13 counties,” Steffen said.
According to Feeding America’s project “Map the Meal Gap,” 14.8 percent of Wapello County is food insecure. The additional money required to meet food needs in the county in 2010 was more than $2 million.
Nearly 65 percent of students in the Ottumwa school district participate in the free and reduced lunch program and 23 percent of children in Wapello County are food insecure.
The FBSI serves 160 agencies in 13 counties, and they will all benefit from this donation, said Neal Abbott, executive director of the food bank.
Abbott previously told the Courier that fewer food donations meant this year was a rough one. The food bank only sent out 1.5 million pounds of food compared to 2 million pounds last year.
“This is absolutely a miracle,” said Tony Yencsik.
Ron Brickey, food bank board member, said five counties in the food bank’s jurisdiction are the most food insecure in the state: Wapello, Jefferson, Van Buren, Keokuk and Lee counties.
Abbott said most pantries and agencies go to retail stores to get their basic items when the food bank doesn’t have those items available, which means they pay full price.
“We’ll use this money to find items food banks need, such as mac and cheese, peanut butter, the basics,” Abbott said.
Whereas other pantries and agencies would have to buy an item wholesale for $1, they will be able to come to the food bank to buy the same item for 38 cents, Abbott said.
The demand exceeds availability, said ORLF board chair Tom Lazio, and if agencies have to buy items at retail price, that money doesn’t go as far as it does when they can buy the same item at a discounted price from the food bank.
“This fits nicely with our mission as a foundation to improve the health and vitality of the community,” Lazio said. “If we put this kind of money into something, it means we really believe in the program.
“Here we are in the bread basket of Iowa, and people are going without food.”
ORLF president and CEO Brad Little said the revolving fund is sustainable, meaning it doesn’t need constant injections of cash to keep it growing.
Little hopes this effort will start a conversation on how to solve the growing hunger problem.
“Things are not adding up,” Little said. “We’re obese but we’re food insecure.”