Eastern Iowans jump to aid those in need after government shutdown

Groups organizing collection during WIC freeze

As word spread that the government shutdown packed a swift punch to the gut of women and children receiving federal food support through WIC, eastern Iowans quickly looked for ways to come to their aid.

From grassroots efforts by individuals to non-profits to businesses to social media, creativity and generosity are shining through with donations of food and money to help those in need.

“I received WIC when I had both of my boys,” said Laura Ziskovsky, of Swisher. “It saved our lives. Somebody needs help, so you help them. What can I do?”

Ziskovsky is asking her church to help collect baby formula. People can either drop it off directly at the HACAP food reservoir in Hiawatha, or she will take it over.

Others such as Jackie Nebel, of Cedar Rapids, are taking to Facebook. She was the sixth person to join a group formed Tuesday evening called “Helping Hands during the WIC freeze,” which is now up to 176 members.

The group is coordinating donations for a pick-up on Saturday.

Nebel said she and a friend have already filled 20 boxes of supplies to give out. Every few minutes people are posting new items they can provide, including a woman who said she had extra baby formula because her child passed away.

“I just want to be able to help people out,” Nebel said. “I’ve been there. I know how important it is. I broke down crying after seeing some of the donations people have given.”

Baby formula appears to be the most pressing need from the shutdown, which on Tuesday froze new food vouchers through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC.

WIC is a federally funded program through the USDA for pregnant, new and breastfeeding mothers and children younger than 5. More than 66,000 people a month in Iowa and nearly 9 million around the country use WIC coupons to buy core food items like bread, milk, cheese and baby formula.

WIC officials said coupons distributed before Tuesday are valid, and WIC recipients are encouraged to keep scheduled appointments, so there isn’t a delay in distributing their coupons if and when the shutdown ends.

In the Iowa City area, the Crisis Center of Johnson County has received calls from WIC recipients looking for where to turn.

Sarah Benson Witry, the food bank and emergency assistance director for the center, said the center is stocking up on formula to meet the new demand.

“Formula isn’t something we normally purchase,” Benson Witry said. “It is very expensive. Normally it is something we rely on donations for, but we want to respond to this emergency need for families.”

She said people can drop off unopened and unexpired formula of all kinds at the Crisis Center, 1121 Gilbert Court in Iowa City, or make financial contributions at their website,  jccrisiscenter.org.

The HACAP Food Reservoir at 1515 Hawkeye Drive in Hiawatha is also accepting donations.

Businesses such as Robinson Family Wellness and Sweet Feet Yoga in Coralville have set out boxes to collect donations.

They posted a message on Facebook around lunchtime Wednesday, and by noon donations of baby food jars and formula had already started coming.

“It’s because of the shutdown. We are just trying to help out the community a little bit,” said Brian Claeys, office manager.

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