Next week is Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week in the United States, which is a time when people across the country draw attention to the problems of hunger and homelessness.
The Bulletin and Review reached out to individuals and organizations in Crawford County that help provide for those in need; the ongoing pandemic has affected many of their efforts in the county for most of this year.
Mike Fillmore, pastor at Denison First United Methodist Church, said the Crawford County Hunger Fighters (CCHF) food distributions fed about 75 individuals once per month prior to the pandemic.
The first distribution after the shutdowns in March served about 1,200 people.
“During the summer it was pretty consistent,” he said. “We would serve 700 to 800 people each time and we were going every two weeks for a while.”
The higher food need in the local area reflected the 20 percent unemployment at the height of the initial shutdowns.
“As people have gone back to work, our numbers have gone down,” he said.
Warren Hawn, CCHF president, said the organization has conducted 11 food distributions since March; 2,614 drive-through vehicles were served along with a total of 468 home deliveries.
“We’ve provided over 92,500 pounds of food to a total of 6,039 adults and 4,237 children,” he said.
“During the summer we met at the 20th Street Elementary School,” Fillmore said. “When students went back to school we had to move it, so the Presbyterian Church has taken on that role now. They’ve done an incredible job.”
The CCHF food distributions now take place on the third Tuesday of each month; the next is on November 17.
Hawn said the initial pandemic-related food distributions served about 400 vehicles at a time
“Now we’ve settled in around the 200 to 210 mark each time, including the shut-ins,” Hawn said. “We’re still doing about 40 to 45 shut-ins each time.”
In the years prior to the pandemic, CCHF distributed food to about 90 families per month, he said.
“Last time, we served about 350 people,” Fillmore said. “The numbers are coming down, but it’s still 350 hungry people. That’s a pretty significant number.”
The CCHF backpack program also serves six schools in the county.
“We’re delivering 257 bags – food sacks - per week,” Hawn said. “We have eight different items in the bag.”
Donations from the community have been very good, he said.
Items for the backpacks are purchased locally; the cost is close to $1,000 per week to run the program.
Food for the distributions is bought in bulk from the Sioux City Food Bank.
“We can buy that at a very reasonable cost, but still that runs anywhere from $800 to $1,200 a month to purchase that food,” Hawn said.
“The community has supported this whole project all along. We need the donations to keep coming.”
Connie McGee, secretary/treasurer of the Temporary Aid Program (T.A.P.) board and a program volunteer said T.A.P. has seen relatively steady use of services by members of the community.
The biggest change has been a significant drop in donations.
“We depend on churches and fundraisers,” she said. “Of course, they aren’t going on now. It’s driven donations down quite a bit.”
Individuals interested in making a donation may make drop-offs on Monday and Thursday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon at the T.A.P. building at 210 South 25th Street in Denison; monetary donations may be mailed to: T.A.P., PO Box 121; Denison, Iowa, 51442.
The T.A.P. office number is 712-263-4733.
Jodie Holm, of West Central Community Action, said more people have been asking her about food stamps during the pandemic.
“People who have never used food stamps before are asking for the food stamp number,” she said. “There are a lot of people who are too embarrassed; they look at it as welfare, but it’s not welfare.”
Holm said the State of Iowa has increased the amount of food stamps provided – in one instance she noted an individual went from receiving $16 to $194 per month – but from month to month the additional amount provided by the state is not known until the food stamps arrive.
Eligibility for food stamps is based on gross income, with per-month household income limits of:
$1,666 for one individual; $2,299 for two; $2,896 for three; $3,494 for four. For each additional person, add $590.
Holm said individuals should not be embarrassed to sign up for food stamps. The number to call to sign up for the program is 1-855-944-3663.
West Central Community Action supports a wide variety of efforts in the local community. Individuals interested in making a donation may call the office at 712-263-3538.
Crawford County Community Services is also available to help connect resources to individuals in need; the office is located on the lower floor of the Crawford County Courthouse and may be contacted at 712-263-2720.
Fillmore credited a cross section of individuals, from Denison churches, the city, the food banks, and others in the community, for the success of the CCHF food distributions.
“Jill Popham created the Crawford Cares page on Facebook, which has been huge in getting out information during this time, and all of these people came alongside Hunger Fighters to help out,” he said. “A lot of people helped.”
Fillmore said he is unsure about what the next few months have in store for the local community.
“I think that’s the big question,” he said. “The unknown is where this thing could go between now and April or May when a vaccine might be widely available.”
The community has responded during the pandemic and continues to do so, he said.
“But obviously we can still use all of the donations that are out there,” Fillmore said. “This is a problem that’s not going to go away.”
Donations may be mailed to:
Crawford County Hunger Fighters, 500 N. 24th Street, Denison, Iowa, 51442; or dropped off at the Denison First United Methodist Church, 113 S 14th St, Denison, or at United Presbyterian Church, 205 North 24th Street, Denison.
The next CCHF food distribution will take place from 3 to 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 17.
Home delivery is available to those who are restricted to their homes or do not have access to transportation.
“If you need food and you cannot get to the distribution for whatever reason, all you have to do is call the Presbyterian Church and we’ll make arrangements to deliver food to you,” Fillmore said.
The number to call is 712-263-4130.
Fillmore encouraged individuals to volunteer to participate in the food distribution events.
“I’d encourage everybody to volunteer at least once,” he said. “It’s so rewarding.”
Safety is the number one priority, he said. Masks are required and individuals who handle food are required to wear gloves.
“We want to make sure everyone is safe,” he said.
Fillmore said he is proud of how the community has responded.
“I think that one of the most basic ways we demonstrate our love for our neighbors is to make sure there aren’t any hungry people in Crawford County,” he said.