HIAWATHA — Second lady Karen Pence on Tuesday praised food bank efforts to fight hunger in Eastern Iowa, especially for those who newly find themselves food insecure during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This time is not like any other time,” the wife of Vice President Mike Pence said after touring the HACAP Food Reservoir in Hiawatha. “We’re in a time that we’re not used to. We’ve never gone through a global pandemic before.”
HACAP, however, hasn’t let COVID-19 and the related problems of school closures and joblessness stop the nonprofit from continuing to deliver directly to the food needy and its partner agencies.
“They kept going as stronger than ever,” Pence said, who called it “inspiring” to see how the agency adapted to the increased demand.
HACAP delivered 750,000 tons of food a month, or 9 million tons last year, said Chief Executive Officer Jane Drapeaux. Since the pandemic began, the volume has increased to 1 million tons per month.
Earlier, Pence headlined a fundraiser with about 40 people for state Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, who is challenging Democratic U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer in the 1st District, which includes Cedar Rapids. Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Dubuque.
As a teacher for more than 25 years, Pence said she knows that food insecurity is real. According to HACAP, it’s real for one in eight people in its seven-county Eastern Iowa service area. That includes 21,000 children.
“So to know that you have children who maybe are feeling a little insecure right now, to know that they’re not going to go hungry is very special,” said Pence, the mother of three.
Meeting the food needs of children and families is “going to help minimize some of the mental health effects that we’ve had,” she said, adding that it’s important to help take away any stigma that might be associated with seeking help from a food bank.
Hinson said she has seen that firsthand in her legislative district that includes the HACAP food warehouse.
“I’ve had calls from constituents who were not sure where their next meal was coming from,” she said. “I’ve had emails from people who thought they had everything under control, but all of a sudden they were pressed a little too far.”
Hinson was impressed by the HACAP operation and called it a great partner with the state to address food insecurity in the pandemic.
Gov. Kim Reynolds has directed $3.5 million of Iowa’s federal CARES Act aid to meeting those needs, said Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, who joined Pence and Hinson on the tour. He heads the governor’s task force on food insecurity.
The funding has allowed the state to buy shelf-stable food items, such as pasta, and to partner with other groups to process donations of beef, pork and other proteins, he said.
That flexibility is one of the pluses of the CARES Act, the $3 trillion COVID-19 relief package approved by Congress, Pence said.
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“This is a whole-of-government approach. We’re not going to tell Gov. Reynolds, ‘Here’s how you have to do it in Iowa,’” Pence said. “So each state, each locality figures out, ‘What do we need for our community?’ I just applaud the governor, the lieutenant governor for stepping up and really taking that CARES Act money here and making it work for the people of Iowa.”
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