When we look back at the most impactful events of 2019, we can’t forget the historic, widespread flooding along the Missouri River in western Iowa and Nebraska this spring.
Nine months later, many families are still struggling after the floods destroyed their homes, their farms and their belongings.
Communities impacted by the flooding have seen a surge in the number of people seeking food assistance, explains Brian Barks, president and CEO of the Food Bank of the Heartland, which serves Nebraska and western Iowa.
“There are people who have been displaced. There are still a number of people who have not been able to get back into their homes,” Barks says.
“People are struggling and running into financial hardship. It’s really, really heartbreaking. … It’s just not something that goes away and you are back to normal again.”
The western Iowa town of Hamburg was completely engulfed by flood waters this spring. The number of local residents seeking food assistance in Hamburg rose from about a typical 70 households per month to 700 households per month after the floods, Barks says.
Unfortunately, the Hamburg food pantry was also damaged by flooding. So local volunteers – many of whom also lost their homes in the flood – set up a temporary food pantry in a school to meet the growing need.
Today, the Hamburg food pantry is back in its original location after a volunteer clean-up effort. The pantry is now serving about 500 households a month, still a much greater number than the pre-flooding levels, Barks says.
“With all the challenges (Hamburg) faced, they have been an inspiration to us,” Barks says.
While the Christmas holiday is the season of giving, the need for food assistance continues year-round, Barks explains.
In Iowa, about 341,890 people are struggling with hunger, according to Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks. This includes about 111,520 children, or about one in seven children, who are considered food insecure in Iowa.
Anyone can find themselves in need of food assistance, Barks says. All it takes is one medical bill they can’t pay, a job loss or unexpected tragedy like this spring’s floods.
Iowans are encouraged to support their local food pantries by donating food, dollars or time to help those in need.
For every $1 donated, local food banks can provide up to three meals, Barks says. “So large, small, any donation makes a different,” he says.
If you prefer to donate food, Banks says the most requested items at local food pantries are proteins, including canned meats and peanut butter, as well as canned vegetables and fruits.
In addition, local food pantries are always in need of volunteers, Barks says.
“Many pantries are operated by retirees, and they have been doing it for a long, long time. They need help. They need people willing to take on those jobs, to run those pantries in those communities,” Barks says.