The Ottumwa Courier

November 12, 2012

Community Day showcases volunteer opportunities

Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — The United Way of Wapello County’s fourth Community Day drew those seeking volunteer opportunities to a variety of organizations in Quincy Place Mall on Saturday.

Representatives were able to talk one-on-one with the public about what services they provide and what volunteer opportunities they have available.

Many don’t know what services the organizations provide, said United Way community impact associate Marie Zoromski.

“Until you need a service, you don’t know what the organization is all about,” she said. “That’s a common theme we see.”

One addition this year was the Food Bank of Southern Iowa to help people understand how they distribute food and what they can do to help.

The food bank distributes food to 26 agencies, including eight pantries, in Wapello County, as well as to more than 168 agencies in 13 counties in southeast Iowa.

“We take either food or money,” said the food bank’s executive director, Neal Abbott. “Money is sometimes better because we can leverage it. The food we get is all donated, but we then also have to pay shipping fees.”

Included in the food bank’s 13 counties it services are the top five “food insecure” counties in the state: Wapello, Jefferson, Van Buren, Keokuk and Lee Counties.

“It’s been a rough year for us,” Abbott said. “Food donations have been down.”

While Abbott said he isn’t sure the exact reason for the drop in donations, he thinks part of it has to do with the food bank’s larger donors — such as Kellogg’s, Nabisco, Heinz and more — not producing as much food, therefore there isn’t as much food left over for food banks.

Abbott said 85 percent of the food they receive comes from corporate donors through the Feeding America network.

“We also distribute USDA commodities in this section of the state,” Abbott said.

Last year the food bank sent out around 2 million pounds of food. This year, Abbott projects they will only hit around 1.5 million pounds.

“We’re hoping it’ll pick up next year, but I don’t know that it will be as good as I’d like it,” he said. “I’ve been here 12 years, and I’ve seen the ebb and tide.”

Abbott said he would like to get volunteers involved, but right now it’s hard to find set hours since they don’t know when the food is going to come to be able to be sorted.

Noe Hernandez, associate pastor of Hispanic ministries at Northgate Alliance Church, said the Ottumwa Immigration and Learning Center’s English and Spanish classes started a year and a half ago and have become very popular for both native English and native Spanish speakers.

“The reason we did this is to serve our Hispanic community in Ottumwa,” Hernandez said. “Teaching them English is one of the best things we could do. Our goal is to be a safe place, a bridge from the immigrant community into the general population.”

The center also partnered with Wesley United Methodist Church to offer Justice for our Neighbors, a program that gives immigrants a chance to get a hold of a lawyer regarding anything from immigration law to adjusting their status.

“Before they had to travel out of town to do so,” Hernandez said. “It’s something that’s so common for us, to get a hold of a lawyer.”

He also hopes the Spanish classes help give the general population of the Hispanic community. There are a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunications involved with language barriers, he said.

“It brings the general population an understanding of incoming cultures,” he said. “I came from Mexico, and learning the language is a way to understand your culture. It’s enough to understand what they do and why they do it.”

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