Representatives of the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) visited Denison on Monday to show much the IPPA appreciates the residents and leadership of the community and Crawford County for its support of the pork industry.
Denison is the third of six communities where IPPA representatives have or will coordinate appreciation programs. Programs have already been conducted in Waterloo and Marshalltown and will take place in Ottumwa, Sioux City and Storm Lake.
The visits to the six communities where pork is processed were driven by the IPPA Board of Directors, said Pat McGonegle, CEO of the state pork producers group.
“The board was thinking about things we need to do to thank not only the workers but the people in the communities because our board is made up of people from communities throughout the state,” McGonegle explained. “The board just wanted to say thank you, particularly where processing is at, because these communities had some risk, more risk than maybe others, but they worked their way through it, and communities like Denison showed real leadership and also in keeping their eye on the ball into the future.”
Monday’s program started off with a kickoff event at 1 p.m. in front of the Donna Reed Theater where IPPA representatives, community leaders and representatives of Smithfield Foods and Quality Food Processors gave their thanks to the community residents, employees of the pork processing plants and the local pork producers.
A $500 check from IPPA was presented to Connie McKee on behalf of the Temporary Aid Program (TAP) and a gift box from the IPPA was presented to the city, represented by Mayor Pam Soseman.
Following the kick-off event, pork baskets were delivered to the fire station and the police station.
Pork coupons were given to the following local food retailers to hand out to their customers: Hy-Vee, Fareway, Walmart, El Michoacano, La Estrella, Tiende El Mexicano and Lovan’s Asian Market.
The afternoon of appreciation ended with a drive-through giveaway of pork products at the United Presbyterian Church. Smithfield Foods donated 1,000 pork loins and Quality Food Processors donated 1,000 packages of bacon for the giveaway.
Brian Rank, hog procurement business manager for the Smithfield Foods plant in Denison, thanked the IPPA for coordinating the event on Monday.
“Smithfield has proudly been part of the Denison community since 1958 and we are extremely grateful to be here. We’re also incredibly thankful that more than 500 independent farm families across the state supply our facility. Their commitment to producing high quality protein, not just over the last year but for decades, has created a partnership we truly value,” he said.
Rank talked about the efforts of farmers and food workers in keeping America fed, and added that through its Helping Hungry Homes initiative, Smithfield has donated more than 220 million servings of protein to food banks in all 50 states. In Iowa, Smithfield has supported local communities with over $1.6 million in charitable donations last year alone.
“This would not have been possible without the support from all of you - Mayor Soseman, our partners at the Temporary Aid Program, the Chamber & Development Council of Crawford County, and of course, our Iowa pig farmers. So on behalf of Smithfield, and more than 1,300 employees who call Denison home, and myself, please accept sincerest thanks and appreciation for all that you do for helping us produce good food responsibly,” Rank said.
Rank said Smithfield Food chose to donate the pork loins because it wanted to be a part of what was going on in the community, especially with Monday’s event.
The pork loins that were donated by Smithfield came from the Denison plant.
“It was great to be part of this activity today and we look forward to a great 2021,” said Rank.
Eric Kohler, general manager of Quality Food Processors (QFP), said although 2020 was a pandemic year, QFP had a highly successful year, producing almost 90 million pounds of bacon products at its 100,000 square foot facility in Denison.
The company’s goal for 2021 is to produce 110 million pounds of bacon products. That would require almost four million hogs, he pointed out.
“Obviously, without the pork producers, facilities like Brian’s (Smithfield Foods) that supply us product and those in that industry, we wouldn’t be able to do it,” Kohler said.
After the program, he told the Denison Bulletin and Review that QFP gets most of its pork from Iowa facilities, including Smithfield Foods, although not the plant in Denison.
During the program, Kohler added, “Obviously my business is completely reliant on the people in the audience and the farmers that are out working today.”
He said that QFP has donated product and/or financially supported many local food drives and events.
“This community, this state, provide us with manpower and resources to do what I get to do every day, make bacon. We feel proud to help and support in any way we can to be sure that people in need are continually taken care of,” Kohler said. “Thank you to the Iowa Pork Producers and all who helped with today’s event. Myself and my team at Quality Food Processors are very proud to support the local farmers, the local businesses and all charitable organizations in the community.”
QFP decided to donate to the food giveaway on Monday because of the nature of the cause, Kohler said.
“We are in business because of the pork producers. And with COVID-19, the year that it was, it was the need to give back to the communities and the farmers,” he added.
Denison Mayor Pam Soseman spoke about the resiliency of the community she has witnessed during the pandemic, with “hands extending to hands to assist those in times of need. This is nothing new to the community.”
She said when the coronavirus hit last year, the residents of Denison and Crawford County leapt into action.
She provided the following examples.
• Crawford County Hunger Fighters was committed to its motto of no one in Crawford County will go hungry, and through the support of residents, the organization was able to “feed the flocks,” Soseman said. “Your giving spirit continues to this day with the inclusions of the Farms to Family program.”
• She gave a special thank you to Warren Hawn, Pastor Mike Fillmore and Pastor Jennifer Olson with the Hunger Fighters, to Connie McKee with the Temporary Aid Program (TAP), and to Jammy Thornock with Iconic Screen Printing, who took it upon himself to print t-shirts for volunteers at the Hunger Fighters drive-through food distributions when his own business, Iconic Screen Printing, had been shut down due to the pandemic.
• She also thanked the Country Store for supplying gas for those making deliveries of food to those unable to come to the drive-through food distributions and to Rodney Olson who became a personal delivery person for anything imaginable.
“You won’t find that kind of dedication anywhere - only in a small, rural community in the great state of Iowa,” the mayor said.
• Wendy Frank, an employee of Crawford County Memorial Hospital, who put a pattern for face mask on Facebook, the Crawford Cares Facebook page, created and administered by Jill Popham, which helped raise awareness about the need for masks and other community needs, and Randy and Amy Healy with Wise Monkey Quilting who opened their store on a Sunday to give away elastic to seamstresses who were making masks.
• The Denison Community Schools, which adjusted to meet the nutritional needs of students by delivering meals when in-person school ended last March.
• The Chamber & Development Council (CDC) of Crawford County for its Gifts of Hope program through which gifts cards were sold to help sustain the businesses that were temporarily shut down.
“To all essential workers, and I do believe everyone is essential, I know it was scary for you. We were all scared,” said Soseman. “You are the strength of this community. You are valued and appreciated.”
She also shared a recent Facebook post she read: When the dust settles we will realize how little we need, how much we have, and the true value of human connection, and the city of Denison is the best definition of human connection.”
Dennis Liljedahl, president of the IPPA and a pig farmer from Essex, spoke how COVID-19 has been a challenge for everyone, especially those in food production.
“Keeping people safe for providing healthy and nutritious food is a critical matter,” he said. “The food supply chain is an important part of producing food and every segment matters. That includes farmers, plant workers and those working in grocery stores and restaurants.”
Liljedahl continued that the Denison community provided support and encouragement at a time that was very stressful.
He thanked Denison for supporting pig farmers and thanked Smithfield Foods for the pork loins and Quality Food Processors for the packages of bacon.
“That’s nearly 6,000 pounds of pork. Each pound of pork is four servings of protein, so that’s almost 24,000 meals for area residents,” he said.
Evan Blakley, executive director of the Chamber & Development Council of Crawford County, said experiences during the past year made him grateful for the type of community that Denison and Crawford County are.
“By my estimation, one out of every four workers in our county is somehow tied to pork production. It’s pretty amazing. Pork is the main driver of our economy, and its importance to our livelihood cannot be overstated,” he continued.
He added, “When it was scary to go to work, our friends and neighbors put on their masks and did their part to keep our economy moving forward and to keep our country fed. Our employers quickly implemented drastic safety measures, onsite testing, and, as they became available, even coordinated vaccination events for their employees.”
He also spoke about how residents ordered take-out, did curbside pickups and shopped online with local retailers and added that through the Gifts of Hope campaign, and through local residents’ efforts, hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of gift cards were purchased to keep local businesses afloat.
“So today I offer a huge thank you to all of our employers in our community. I definitely want to thank the Iowa Pork Producers Association for choosing Denison,” Blakley concluded.
Dal Grooms, communications director with IPPA, said Monday’s program was a great event and complimented how the citizens and community leadership were wonderful to work with.
After Monday’s program at the Donna Reed Theater, McGonegle was telling how local pork producers compete in a global market.
“For us, pork production starts here in rural Iowa, and it (the global market) has an impact,” McGonegle said. “We export pork products to about 48 different countries from here in Iowa, but it has to start here, and it starts with the farms and areas around Denison, rural Crawford County.”