That's how Joan Spooner described the way an avalanche of food has restocked the bare shelves at the Upper Des Moines Opportunity charity food bank in Storm Lake.
"What people have done is just extraordinary," she says. Just weeks ago, the food bank was drained in the face of record need and demand. "Just a couple of articles in the paper and we have had tons of response. I can't tell you how grateful I am to this community," Spooner said.
Creativity played a role.
One group of high school students dressed up in costumes for Halloween and went door-to-door trick-or-treating - for cans of food. Trying to top each other, they brought in a whole carload. In another case, a small area church gave $10 to each of the members of their youngest religion class - to take to the store to shop for the needy. "They were as young as kindergarten, but they didn't buy candy and Twinkies, they seemed to know people needed and they went out all by themselves and brought in a carload," Spooner said.
Storm Lake Middle School students conducted their own food drive and pulled up with two pickup loads. The Boy Scouts did an early drive last weekend and delivered a full large trailer load. Faith Bible church brought in a huge donation. "The schools, the churches, local businesses have all done so much, and then there are just the normal people who give, who took it upon themselves to do more. It's unbelievable. In this community when you have a real need, you just have to ask and the generosity comes through."
The Storm Lake Chamber of Commerce is also planning a "Neighbor Helping Neighbor" campaign to begin soon, to further collect clothing and food.
The result is that the shelves at UDMO are stocked "back to normal," Spooner said. "We're stocked with everything, and we got the stuff we really needed. What we generally try to do is provide a two-week supply of food to a needy family, just like they might get from the aisles of a regular supermarket. We haven't been able to do that - we might have a little spaghetti left, but no sauce. We might have noodles, but no tuna. We couldn't really help these people, and it feels so good to be able to do it right again."
That doesn't mean the need has ended. Canned meats, packaged hot dogs and tubes of hamburger (the only kind of beef they can by regulation distribute) are always needed, as are things like laundry soap, dish soap, toothpaste and so on. Fruit is particularly needed right now. Fresh fruit can be problematic to distribute before it goes soft, so canned or bottled fruits are prized donations.
While UDMO appreciated every donation, it is especially valuable when people give a little on a regular mothly basis to avoid the ups and downs of times with great donations and then times of bare shelves.
"We do have a lot of people who will do that through their church food collection bins. They just make a point of bringing their donation on the first of every month, and a lot of the churches are good about calling to see what we especially need, so their donations are very important," Spooner says.
While demand for food is still higher than in the past, it has slowed slightly from where it was a month or so ago. Some of the demand comes from people brought in from Chicago to work at Tyson, who have since left their jobs and have been unable to find other work and choose not to return to the city.
"We had one guy in a few days ago who literally had 50 job applications in his hand that he had collected. He says no one will hire him. Unemployment is low in Storm Lake, and there just aren't a lot of jobs," Spooner says.
She fears a tough winter in a difficult economy. Early signs are already proving her right.
"Utilities are the big worry right now. We are seeing a lot of disconnects and people with huge bills built up that they can't pay. What if it were below freezing right now? For our energy assistance program, we right now have appointments booked totally solid every 15 minutes for two weeks.
"It's just scary," she says.