Important Message From The NE Iowa Food Bank Regarding COVID-19
As the Northeast Iowa Food Bank continues to monitor developments surrounding COVID-19's (coronavirus) affect on northeast Iowa, they are calling on the public to understand the importance of volunteerism today, what their commitment is to current and future volunteers, and their concerns regarding those who may be considering to volunteer.
Why Volunteerism Is Critical
The reality that the Food Bank faces today is that on top of the estimated 43,000 northeast Iowans who were facing hunger long before this crisis developed, thousands more stand to be affected as a direct result of COVID-19. They have already seen a glimpse at what this looks like:
- As social services close their doors and limit service, the number of partners they have to help them distribute food, decreases. Their Cedar Valley Food Pantry and Mobile Food Pantries will have to try and make up for these missing meals that services no longer available, once provided.
- As children are forced to stay home, and schools close, the Food Bank seeks to ensure that the BackPack Program is still available to children in need. They plan to do this by working with school partners to make BackPacks bags available, while partnering schools go about providing curbside meals.
- As senior centers and services are affected by these events, the Food Bank will need to continue working with NEIAAA to ensure seniors have access to food through our Elderly Nutrition Program.
- As more and more people are forced to evaluate their health and safety, many people are finding volunteerism harder to imagine while still practicing social distancing.
- Finally, more people are at risk of getting laid off or becoming sick, now more than ever. As grocery stores run out and limit hours, the Food Bank seeks solutions to continue feeding those experiencing this situational hunger.
“Food is a basic need, and people cannot go without it. However, we must deal with these challenges because they cannot be ignored.” stated Barb Prather, Executive Director of the Northeast Iowa Food Bank. “As a result, we will be transitioning the way we operate to accommodate the distribution of pre-packaged, emergency meal-kits, through the facilitation of drive-thru style service. Doing so will not only ensure a safer and more hygienic environment for all volunteers, clients, and our staff, but it will make us more efficient and allow us to distribute more food than if we were to try any other way.”
The Food Bank plans to release more details on how they plan to shift the bulk of their operations to a new style centered around pre-packaged emergency meal kits and drive-thru services, later this week.
Who Should/Shouldn’t Be Volunteering
While the Food Bank seeks to communicate the importance of volunteers coming in, they say that before that can happen, people need to understand the vital role that social-distancing and good hygiene play in the spread of COVID-19.
“Start with prevention- if you don't feel good or know you have been exposed to the virus, please stay home and take care of yourself and family,” said Prather. “As we all know now, upon contact, COVID-19 can be present in anyone (with or without signs of symptoms) and spread by anyone. While testing remains unavailable, we must rely on the decisions that each individual makes to ensure that they are making the best personal choices for themselves, their family and friends, and those who they may come into contact with.”
Because prevention is the first and foremost focus, the Food Bank asks that if you feel sick or think you may get sick, that you do not come in. This is especially important for seniors and the immunocompromised. They also say that the same emphasis should be placed on children, and due to this, they have enforced a strict age limit, requiring those 14 and younger to be accompanied with an adult, should they choose to come and volunteer.
What The Food Bank Is Doing To Ensure Safety
As they deal with new information as it comes in everyday, sometimes by the hour, and struggle to respond to each and every developing situation as it pertains to their 16-county service area, Prather notes that relationships are the key to keeping staff and volunteer morale up during these unprecedented times.
"First off, we want to take any opportunity right now and thank the individuals and groups who have made the choice to come in and volunteer their time with us. Especially during this emerging COVID-19 concern. They have seen us in the best of times, and they are now seeing us during our most challenging. We are doing everything in our power to make sure that the work gets done, that’s true. But we are also working as hard as we can to make sure that people feel valued, safe, healthy and respected while they invest their time to help us move these mountains,” stated Prather. “We’re only human, and though we’re bound to make mistakes as we navigate these uncharted waters, it’s the humanity in us all that will get us through this.”
While the Food Bank wants people to feel connected to the mission at the emotional level, the physical health of their staff and volunteers remains a top priority as well.
“Here at the Food Bank we are and always practicing universal precautions and standard food safety practices by hand washing, sanitization of surfaces, wearing gloves In order to comply with the guidelines given in regards to the evolving social distancing measures, we have set up several areas in our warehouse for a volunteers to work in groups no bigger than 10 and to allow for volunteers to be the appropriate amount of space from each other,” stated Prather. “Again, we value our volunteers and the communities in which we serve and want to not only help those in need but also keep those who help us safe.”
How To Help
The Food Banks ask that anyone interested in volunteering sign up at https://calendly.com/neifb, by visiting their website at www.northeastiowafoodbank.org, or by calling them at 319-235-0507 and asking for Maddie (Individual Volunteer Coordinator) or Dan Bohnker (Group Volunteer Coordinator). For those unable to volunteer, but still want to help, donations can be made to their Emergency Preparedness Fund at https://www.northeastiowafoodbank.org/covid-2020-preparedness-fund/.
The Northeast Iowa Food Bank provides nutritious food and grocery products to about 200 nonprofit organizations and programs who assist the hungry and to individuals who are in need of food assistance to sustain life. Last year, the Food Bank distributed more than 8 million pounds of food, which provided over 6.7 million meals within a 16-county service area.
The Food Bank provides eight programs that serve the Community: Member Agency Distribution, Cedar Valley Food Pantry, BackPack Program, Kids Cafe, Elderly Nutrition, Mobile Food Pantries, Summer Feeding and a Community Garden. Encompassing all eight of these programs is a commitment to nutrition education. The Food Bank is a member of the Iowa Food Bank Association and Feeding America. For more information, visit www.northeastiowafoodbank.org.