Long before the pandemic, the Food Bank of Iowa (FBOI) has been at the forefront of helping reduce food insecurity in Iowa. The Ottumwa Distribution Center is the hub for 13 Iowa counties with some of the highest food insecurity rates in the state. In Wapello County, the FBOI saw a 20% increase in food insecurity at the height of the shutdown. That number has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.

In the 2019 fiscal year, 380,000 pounds of food was distributed to those in need in Wapello County by the FBOI. In 2020, that number rose to more than 500,000 pounds. In 2021, that number again grew, reaching 625,000 pounds, a 65% increase in demand. During the pandemic, the organization has doubled the food distributed through its existing senior box program in Ottumwa, eliminated ordering caps for school pantries, and offered emergency mobile pantries to help fill the need. Additionally, contactless delivery requirements and closed partner agencies all compounded to dramatically increase the amount of work necessary to get food to those in need.

Volunteers annually contribute over 30,000 hours to the fight against hunger at the Food Bank of Iowa and the Ottumwa Distribution Center – the equivalent of nearly 15 full-time employees. However, “early in the pandemic, hundreds of volunteer shifts were canceled despite an overwhelming increase in need. This challenge was complicated by the high-touch nature of packing emergency boxes. Volunteering had not returned to pre-pandemic levels at the end of FY21 in June,” the Food Bank of Iowa shared in their
Nonprofit Pandemic Support Fund application.

Bergetta Beardsley, Vice President of Philanthropy, credits volunteers with helping to keep the doors open through the challenges they have faced in the last year and a half. “Without the daily help of volunteers and the contributions from donors who helped build our capacity and efficiency, it would have been impossible to effectively meet community need,” she said.

The Ottumwa Distribution Center is using its Nonprofit Pandemic Support Fund grant to increase volunteer engagement and efficiency. Updated supplies and tools for the volunteer center will allow volunteers to sort food much more efficiently, which will get it to partners of the Food Bank much more quickly.

To support the Ottumwa Distribution Center, our staff volunteered for a morning shift sorting food in the volunteer center. Our team, plus three additional community volunteers, were able to sort 9097 pounds of food in two and a half hours. Community members interested in volunteering at the Ottumwa Distribution Center can visit https://www.foodbankiowa.org/volunteer