Over 30 Years of Service in Northeast Iowa
How we got our start is where we are today
The Northeast Iowa Food Bank didn’t start as the Northeast Iowa Food Bank. In 1981, several community members got together and decided there was enough need in the area to start a food pantry. The Francis Grout School had closed and permission was granted to run the pantry out of one room in the old school house. The Cedar Valley Food Bank was incorporated and a board of 24 directors was elected in July.
For the next several months, the Board agonized over a growing realization of the need for this service and the chilling understanding of how difficult it would be to establish it, fund it, and keep it going. The Cedar Valley Food Bank (CVFB) started taking referrals for emergency food in the dead of an Iowa winter. With no heat and no water, they just about froze in the Francis Grout building trying to keep costs down as much as possible, but ran small heaters to try to stay warm.
Management was by a team made up of Paul Koch from Black Hawk Lutheran Ministry, Jeff Fitzpatrick from the County Relief Office, and Ruth Toney from Operation Threshold. In March of 1982, Ruth was hired as Executive Director of the Cedar Valley Food Bank. As for staff, she was it! There were a total of 8 volunteers, of which Edith and Elmer Rasmussen were the first, Rachael Goings came on board as Ruth's "right-hand man,” and eventually Edith’s sister Bessie Ross decided she wanted to help.
The Cedar Valley Food Bank served 1,200 households during that first period of approximately 8 months.
Government Commodities were being stacked in the Cattle Congress building in order to empty out trucks. Donations of peanut butter, rice, and big blocks of cheese were dispensed on a first come, first serve basis. A gentleman in Chicago that ran a Food Bank sent a semi of food at no cost, which turned out to be the first big assortment of product that was received. Truckloads of potatoes would come in the middle of the night because they were overloaded. Volunteers were called and employees would round up spouses. Highway Patrolmen would stay to make sure the trucks were unloaded.
In 1986, the emergency box component of the program had served 11,000 households...29,000 people...with 335,000 meals made up of more than a million and a half pounds of food...all in metropolitan Black Hawk County. The staff now numbered six and 178 volunteers had given their effort this year. The other component of the agency lead to our affiliation with the National Second Harvest movement, making the Cedar Valley Food Bank a wholesale distributor to other emergency food and feeding agencies in northeast Iowa. Growing from 18 member agencies to 100 and receiving just under a million and a half pounds of food through the CVFB during 1985-1986. A total of 3 million pounds of food through the two programs.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances and need in Black Hawk County, a wonderful organization was formed. It started out...it stayed alive...and the community has responded with an outpouring of support and an enormous expression of confidence. Many elements of the community have participated in making it happen: County Government, City Government, the School District, State Government. They've all been supportive as have United Way and many businesses, churches, organizations, and individuals. The food pantry evolved into a Food Bank, which now distributes millions of pounds of food to over 200 agencies through 16 Northeast Iowa counties. Programs such as Kids Cafe, the BackPack Program (formerly Operation Family Pack), Elderly Nutrition Boxes, Mobile Food Pantries, Chef Charles, and Pick-A-Better Snack also evolved to meet the growing needs of a growing community. Without the support of grants, government assistance, the United Way, individuals, businesses, churches, and shared maintenance fees, the Food Bank would not still be operating.
The harsh reality is that hunger will never be eliminated, but can definitely be alleviated.
We are grateful to all those who have supported us over the years. From monetary donors, food and in-kind donors, volunteers, board members, and sponsors, you have helped us achieve what we stand for today. Please continue to help us celebrate all of the successes we have enjoyed since 1981. We would love for you to stop in, take a tour, or have us come speak about the Food Bank to your group or organization. We may be here because we are needed here, but we are here because you make us who we are. Thank you for your continued support!