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Emergency Food Box sees increased demand

T-R photo by Noah Rohlfing —A new plexiglass waiting area at the Emergency Food Box in Marshalltown shields waiting families from the winter elements. The protected waiting area was installed last weekend, according to Cindy Staron, the Co-Chair of Operations.

The Emergency Food Box in Marshalltown — an offshoot of the Iowa Food Bank — has been increasingly busy during 2020.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage through Iowa and recently reached its worst point yet in the state, many have lost jobs and income. The derecho in August made things worse. So as Thanksgiving arrives, the Food Box is faced with trying to help as many people as possible and keeping its inventory stocked heading into the holiday season.

Co-Chair Cindy Staron said they see new families coming in every week.

“It seems like we average 15 to 30 new families every month,” Staron said. “That means we didn’t see them for three years.”

She said this is a contrast to earlier in the pandemic, when the CARES Act and stimulus provided $600 per week on top of regular unemployment and kept some families going during April and May. During this period usage of the Emergency Food Box actually decreased from its numbers at the start of the pandemic in March.

The Food Box is a part of the Iowa Food Bank.

Staron said 200-to-250 families a month are coming through the Food Box, which provides to families once a month. Large families coming through and the increased demand has left the “random area” down to about nothing at the start of the week, although there was a new shipment from the Iowa Food Bank that came in Monday which she said would hopefully hold them over for a little bit.

“What we can’t get from the Food Bank we purchase locally,” Staron said. “We’ve got some items that we have not been able to get from the Food Bank in recent orders, so we got them from local stores.”

The pandemic has also meant there’s less interaction between the families and the staff of the Food Box. Due to concerns about having people in the building, families who come and get their monthly food intake have to stop at the entrance and show staff their IDs through the window. Then, they bring out the food to those families.

With winter approaching, that could have been a problem. So over the weekend, Staron and the staff at the Food Box installed a protective waiting area outside of the building.

Still, it’s been difficult for Staron to see the holidays bring an influx of new families — especially those who will soon have college kids returning for the winter. She said she wanted them to know that the Food Box is there for them.

“We want them to know that that’s exactly why we’re here,” Staron said. “To provide food for them as their income drops or their job is lost or they’re not needed through the winter.”

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Contact Noah Rohlfing at nrohlfing@timesrepublican.com

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