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Community responds to food bank crisis

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The community is responding to the sudden crisis at the Upper Des Moines Food Pantry, but the Storm Lake charitable agency simply can't keep up - and officials there worry that it's going to get worse before it gets better.

"Heating costs are projected to go up another 30 percent this winter - on top of the big increases people have seen in their food and gas. We are seeing people turn to us for food who have never had to do that before," says Joan Spooner, local UDMO Director.

"Everything has gone up except the wages people are making."

In addition to people trying to survive on a fixed income, UDMO has seen a number of people who were recruited into the community from Chicago to work at Tyson. "For whatever reason, the job doesn't work out and they can't find another one, so they need assistance," Spooner said.

In some cases, she said, families have had to live for a time at local campgrounds, because they haven't been able to pay their rent.

"Maybe it seems like an adventure for a while for a child to be living in a tent with cooking over an open fire, but it has to be a frightening scenerio for a parent," she said.

Nutrition is another worry.

"Parents tell us they are trying to purchase whatever fills their kids up and doesn't cost a lot. We know that those kind of food choices are usually not very nutritious," Spooner said.

With an increase in 318 more housholds in the past three months needing food assistance, the shelves are bare at UDMO.

"I didn't think the day would ever come when we would be out of corn," she said.

The greatest need may be for canned meats and tuna, good sources of protein and "stuff a parent can make things out of," Spooner says.

All kinds of fruits, vegetables, soups, powdered milk; anything non-perishable is needed.

Thankfully, the community is responding to the need.

"Since the newspaper started making people aware, people have been very good to us," Spooner said. "We are starting to get some donations, and it makes a big difference. Several of the churches put out food barrels for us all the time, and it is really appreciated."

St. Mary's school is working on a food-raising challenge, Boy Scouts are considering moving their food drive to the fall to help answer the need, Buena Vista University is doing a door-to-door food drive in scavenger hunt style. Tyson has donated some frozen chicken - though some families don't have freezers for meat.

The rising need raises concerns for the other charitable programs in the community, including the Mr. Goodfellow fund drive at the Pilot-Tribune that will start soon, and the Adopt A Family for Christmas program UDMO runs with the Pilot.

"I'm afraid some people won't be adopting families this year, because with the economic realities, they may choose to concentrate on getting what they need for their own families," Spooner said. "I can foresee that we will be really struggling at Christmastime."

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