As Thanksgiving Approaches, Iowans Help Fight Hunger

As Thanksgiving Approaches, Iowans Help Fight Hunger

Iowans fighting hunger at home and abroad shared ideas at recent 2014 Iowa Hunger Summit.

By Stephen Lauer

On October 14, 2014 over 700 Iowa community leaders from throughout the state gathered in Des Moines for the Eighth Annual Iowa Hunger Summit, organized by the World Food Prize Foundation. The purpose of this annual event is to unite Iowans fighting hunger at home and abroad.

The day began with an exploration of the evolving challenge of hunger in Iowa. Mr. Cory Berkenes, executive director of the Iowa Food Bank Association, presented highlights from the 2014 Feeding America report.

NOT AN ORDINARY LUNCH: Iowans from all walks of life united against hunger at the 2014 Iowa Hunger Luncheon. The Hunger Summit, a meeting to learn from each other and share ideas, has a luncheon featuring the same food provided in hunger relief meals for impoverished people.

The report shows that Iowa's 530,000 food pantry users come from a diversity of backgrounds: 66% of households using Iowa food pantries have a member who has been employed in the past year, 31% of clients are children and 11% are seniors. Households using the food pantry system must often make difficult choices between purchasing food and other necessities: 65% had to choose between food and medicine, 59% between food and utilities, and 65% between food and transportation.

The Challenge: work together to relieve food insecurity
Dr. Kimberly Greder, extension specialist at Iowa State University, emphasized the harmful impacts of food insecurity on children and families. Children from food insecure families are at higher risk for negative behaviors, poor academic performance, and mental health problems. Greder explained that these early difficulties can impact the health, productivity, and wellbeing of food insecure children for their entire lives.

Bishop Richard Pates of the Diocese of Des Moines noted a similar cycle of food insecurity and harmful social outcomes around the world; hunger and conflict reinforce each other. He urged Iowans to see food security and the relationship between food and peace as moral issues. In his Hunger Luncheon keynote address, Dennis Dimick, Executive Editor at National Geographic Magazine, noted similar connections between hunger and the greatest challenges facing societies across the globe.

The Response: sharing ideas to help feed the hungry
Mr. Rick McNary, vice president at Outreach, Inc., placed responses to hunger on a "relief – development continuum." Relief efforts "give a man a fish" by responding to the immediate needs of hungry people. Development efforts "teach a man to fish" by helping people improve their situation and overcome the challenges that keep them food insecure.

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Relief and development are both needed and often complement each other. This point was driven home by Dr. Dorothy Masinde, who manages Iowa State University's service learning program in rural Uganda, Africa. In the program ISU students and faculty work with community leaders to teach young mothers how to improve their children's nutrition. While the main focus of the program is on education and skills training, ISU quickly realized the need to add a relief component to their activities. The program now also provides starving children with nutritious food to keep them alive and healthy while the mothers complete the nutrition education and skills training programs.

Collaboration between organizations important in Iowa
Collaboration between relief and development efforts is important in Iowa. Dave Miner with the INDY Hunger Network recommended that Iowans consider using the collective impact model of collaboration. This has been used effectively in Indianapolis, where the INDY Hunger Network brings together food banks and pantries, faith-based initiatives, and corporate and government leaders to coordinate work to end hunger. By providing a forum for collaboration, a single set of metrics for evaluating progress, and full time staff and volunteers dedicated to ensuring that different relief and development initiatives work together, the INDY Hunger Network has reduced hunger significantly.

Speakers on the program at the Iowa Hunger Summit suggested a number of ways for Iowans to become involved in the fight against hunger.

Bringing farmers, faith communities together to be effective
Arlyn Schipper, an Iowa farmer from Grundy County described his work with Foods Resource Bank, which brings Iowa farmers and faith communities together to teach smallholder farmers overseas how to improve their production practices. Over a period of time, imparting this knowledge enables farmers in some of the world's poorest countries to become self-sufficient.

Gary Oppenheimer spoke about www.AmpleHarvest.org, which provides a way for Iowa's gardeners to donate surplus produce directly to food pantries in their communities. Kent Sovern, state director at Iowa AARP, recommended that business, government and community leaders take advantage of the opportunities presented by the growing population of older Iowans. AARP Iowa provides opportunities for Iowans, including older Iowans, to volunteer against hunger in their communities.

Additional organizations and opportunities to fight hunger at home and abroad are available year-round through the Iowa Hunger Directory website. For information about the Iowa Hunger Summit or Iowa Hunger Directory, contact Stephen Lauer at 515-245-3730 or [email protected]. To access the Iowa Hunger Directory, visit www.iowahungerdirectory.org.

Stephen Lauer is a program coordinator for the World Food Prize Foundation, based in Des Moines.

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