Community

HACAP shatters food distribution records in November

Frequent distributions, more hunger causes for uptick, agency says

HACAP warehouse worker Todd James pulls a pallet of donated strawberries into a cooler in the warehouse at HACAP Food Reservoir in Hiawatha, Iowa on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018. The agency is expecting to get around 1.5 million pounds of food over the next few months as part of the USDA trade aid package. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
HACAP warehouse worker Todd James pulls a pallet of donated strawberries into a cooler in the warehouse at HACAP Food Reservoir in Hiawatha, Iowa on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018. The agency is expecting to get around 1.5 million pounds of food over the next few months as part of the USDA trade aid package. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

The food bank distributor that supports local pantries across the Corridor and Eastern Iowa has given out more food this November than it has in its history, signaling a rise in people seeking hunger assistance.

The Hawkeye Area Community Action Program Food Reservoir gave out 874,417 pounds this month as of Wednesday, said reservoir program manager Angie Albright, far eclipsing the 525,018 pounds distributed in November 2017.

Some of that increase came from HACAP distributing more often to its affiliate pantries in Benton, Cedar, Iowa, Jones, Johnson, Linn and Washington counties. However, Albright said there has been more demand in recent months for pantry services.

According to data provided by HACAP, just over 19,500 people were served this October, about 200 more people than October 2017.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in people coming to food pantries or coming to meal programs,” Albright said. “ ... I wouldn’t say it’s a huge increase. It’s noticeable.”

Those figures don’t include the expected 1.5 million pounds of food the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to give HACAP as part of a larger $12 billion aid package for farmers designed to soften the blow of trade wars between the U.S. and China, Mexico, Canada and other countries. The USDA earmarked $1.2 billion of that package to buy excess food from farmers and processors then give it to food banks and school lunch programs across the country.

The food reservoir expects the first shipment of that 1.5 million pounds to arrive in early January. The USDA currently is giving HACAP and other food reservoirs excess milk, Albright said, but not as part of the farmer aid package.

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HACAP won’t know exactly how many people were served in its region in November until local pantries report their numbers at the end of the month.

Albright said much of the demand so far this month has been in produce, particularly ingredients found on a traditional Thanksgiving table.

“We’ve moved potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, apples, lettuce, things that are items that people can access to help give them a good Thanksgiving meal,” she said.

Linda Gorkow, executive director of the Iowa Food Bank Association and former head of the HACAP Food Reservoir, said anecdotal reports she’s received from food pantries so far point to a “particularly big year” for people coming in for food, with increases coming from people who are employed but not making ends meet, along with elderly Iowans.

“We’re starting to see the expansion of different needs there are each community,” she said. “ ... We’re seeing a cross-section now. The senior hunger is a thing that’s starting to pop up, and with working families.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; dan.mika@thegazette.com

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