Johnson County food pantries having Thanksgiving in July

Need increases during summer, says one pantry's director

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IOWA CITY — When Johnson County food pantries say dip, they aren’t referring to a plunge in a swimming pool, but the decline in donations that happens during the summer months.

“The need always increases during the summer,” said Tina Dubois, executive director of the North Liberty Community Pantry.

Children are no longer in school, meaning families who relied on the school lunch and/or breakfast program must provide three meals a day instead of one. At the same time, civic groups that organize food drives throughout the year tend to take the summer months off.

The decreased number of college students in Iowa City also means a drop in donations.

“University students organize a lot of food drives,” said Beth Ritter Ruback, communications and development director for The Crisis Center of Johnson County.

Hunger, however, doesn’t go on vacation, which is why food pantries in Johnson County will hold Thanksgiving in July next month.

The event, which is entering its 15th year, is held every summer to stock the shelves at local food pantries. This year, the CCA Community Food Pantry in Tiffin, the Coralville Ecumenical Food Pantry, The Crisis Center of Johnson County Food Bank in Iowa City and the North Liberty Community Pantry hope to amass a collective 105,000 pounds of food.

According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap, slightly more than 14 percent of Johnson County’s population — 18,480 people — were food insecure in 2011. This means they are not able to have three nutritional meals a day.

“A substantial number of those individuals are children,” Ritter Ruback said.

Ron Hall, executive chef at Mercy Iowa City, launched the Thanksgiving in July project in 1998, about eight months after organizing a hospital-wide food drive for the Crisis Center.

“We felt pretty good about the amount of food we had collected until we saw what the need was,” Hall said. “While we had a substantial amount, it was just going to last a few days.”

With the understanding that more people would equal more donations, Hall and supporters managed to collect six tons, or 12,000 pounds, of food in July 1998. Last year’s event resulted in more than 60,000 pounds of food.

“There’s strength in numbers,” Hall said. “If everybody does their little part, it really makes a difference.”

The Thanksgiving in July Community-Wide Food Drive begins July 1 and ends July 31, with food drives, benefits and other events planned throughout the month.

In North Liberty, financial institutions will have food collection boxes on-site. The business that collects the most food will win the Traveling Turkey Trophy. The North Liberty Community Pantry also is holding the first Thanksgiving in July Turkey Trot on July 21. Registration for the 5K race and family one-mile event is $25 before July 9, with proceeds benefiting the food pantry. Those wanting to participate may register online at

In Coralville, both Walgreens stores, as well as Hy-Vee, New Pioneer Food Co-op and MidWestOne Bank, will have donations bins on site throughout the month. There also will be a carwash fundraiser from 1 to 3 p.m. July 13 at the Coralville Hills Bank & Trust, 1009 Second St. The suggested donation is $5 per car.

Food donation boxes will be all Iowa City Hy-Vee and Fareway locations, plus Iowa City’s New Pioneer Food Co-op and Bread Garden Market, throughout July, with all donations benefiting the Crisis Center. Other events include a Scrabble Fundraiser from 6 to 9 p.m. July 18 at the Kirkwood Room, 515 Kirkwood Ave.; “A Place at the Table” screening at Englert Theatre at 3 p.m. July 28; and a Dine & Donate event with proceeds from local restaurants benefiting the Crisis Center on July 30.

Admission to the Scrabble Fundraiser is $10 per person. A food or cash donation will be accepted as admission to “A Place at the Table.” Additional information can be found on the Crisis Center website at


According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap, nearly 13 percent of Iowa’s population, 395,620 people, were food insecure in 2011.

The Crisis Center of Johnson County’s Food Bank currently serves more than 800 families per week. The center gave away more than one million pounds of food in fiscal year 2012, with 75 percent of it coming from donations.

The North Liberty Community Pantry has seen a 17 percent increase in visits since January. The pantry distributes more than 15,000 pounds of food each month.

The Coralville Ecumenical Food Pantry had a total of 4,707 client visits in the last 12 months. The average family visits the food pantry twice a month, receiving about 23 pounds of food each visit.


Top 10 Suggested Donations:

The items food pantries need to most include: canned meat; peanut butter; canned fruit; toilet paper; canned vegetables; soups and stews; pasta and rice; condiments; and baby items. Personal hygiene products, laundry detergent and pet food are also needed.

Monetary donations will be accepted. A $1 donation is valued as the equivalent of four pounds of food.

“Financial donations provide us the opportunity to buy a lot of food,” said Beth Ritter Ruback, communications and development director for The Crisis Center of Johnson County. “Food donations provide diversity.”

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