Food bank sees one-third increase in people served

T-R PHOTOS BY LANA BRADSTREAM — Emergency Food Box volunteer Lu Mohr helps assemble a cart of groceries for a new client in Marshalltown on Friday. The food box has seen a one-third increased amount of people utilizing its services within the last year.

The number of people in Marshalltown struggling with food insecurity is growing, and it does not look like that number will shrink anytime soon.

Cindy Staron, co-chair of operations for the Emergency Food Box in Marshalltown, said the number of people they are serving has increased more than one-third compared to a year ago.

“Last month in June we served 375 households, and there were more than 1,300 individuals in those households,” she said. “In 2020, 2021 and 2022, we served 200 households each month. That is a huge jump, and it happened quickly.”

Staron estimates the food box, which is in its 40th year of service, receives 50 new families each month. She noted 40 percent of the 1,300 people who received help from them were children.

“They are of an age when good brain development relies on good food at home,” Staron said. “Their sleep relies on knowing they will have a meal the next day, and we do not provide food for the whole month. We provide three, four, five days worth.”

A lone can of tuna sits inside the little pantry at Elim Lutheran Church in Marshalltown on Friday. The church also placed a sign encouraging people to only take what they need.

Unfortunately, Staron is not expecting relief. Also in June, she attended a conference hosted by the Food Bank of Iowa in Des Moines and was told not to expect the number of people served to slow down — at least not for a few years. Staron said that expectation is based on numbers and trends the Food Bank of Iowa is seeing.

“When we heard that, we looked at each other,” she said. “We are just praying we can provide what people need and continue to be positive support for Marshalltown.”

In 2022, the Des Moines bank was struggling to meet the demand of smaller banks, such as Marshalltown’s, throughout the state. Staron said one of the reasons is supply chain issues.

“We used to order canned fruits, vegetables, sauces, cereals and they don’t always have those available,” she said. “We might go a couple months without those. We used to order as much as we could store. Now we are given a limit so [the Food Bank of Iowa] can supply throughout the region.”

Due to the state bank struggles, Staron said they are relying more heavily on local generosity.

The little pantry at the Extension office in Marshalltown has some lone grocery items on Friday. The accompanying cooler was empty Friday afternoon. The Extension staff have to restock the pantry shelves twice a day.

“Financial donations we get from the community are used to buy food from the local grocery stores,” she said. “We are doing that more than what we did in the past.”

The bank is also utilizing the Food Rescue program more often, and that makes up for 50 percent of the food given away. The program goes into effect when businesses are preparing to throw away food that may be old or damaged, but is still edible and nutritious. Staron said the bank has made arrangements for volunteers to go pick up that food and place it on their shelves.

“Forty percent of food in the United States is wasted,” she said. “It is unfortunate for so many families. Just because a date on an item is older does not mean it is not good. There is still good, nutritional benefit. Depending on the item, the nutritional benefit is still acceptable days, weeks, months after the date.”

Fortunately, residents of Marshalltown are also very generous with food items. The Arresting Hunger Food Drive, organized by the Rotary Club of Marshalltown and Marshalltown Police Department and held July 15, is evident of that. The Food Box received 770 pounds of food from the drive. Although the cost of food has increased, Staron said there was a little bit more donated than the previous year.

“I know it is hard for people to feed their own families, on top of others,” she said. “A 30-cent can of beans is not 30 cents anymore. We are appreciative of the support from the drive, the businesses, churches and individuals.”

Fresh produce can sometimes be found in the little pantries throughout Marshalltown. However, a lot of time the shelves are empty due to an increasing number of residents struggling with buying food.

Increased inflation is one reason Staron believes more families are using the food bank, because not everyone who walks through the door is unemployed. Plus, she said wages have largely remained stagnant.

“Prices on everything have gone up and many people are on fixed incomes,” Staron said. “I used to get a full cart of groceries for $100. Now, a half-full cart costs $130 and I don’t have meat in it. That is a huge factor. The price of food, fuel, utilities is stretching families to their end.”

Little pantries

At the Food Box, households are only allowed to receive help once a month. In between visits to that facility, people can get food at the seven little pantries in Marshalltown. The pantries are small boxes, similar to the little libraries, in which people can get free food for themselves and their families. Two of the pantries were installed this year due to increased demand and usage.

Amy Pieper, the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Marshall County Director, said there are five additional pantries throughout the county.

A man drops off donated fresh vegetables, such as zucchini, at the little food pantry near Hope United Methodist in Marshalltown on Friday. The shelves of the pantries are frequently empty as more and more people struggle with food insecurity.

Two towns in Marshall County do not have little pantries — Rhodes and St. Anthony. However, Pieper said plans are underway to place pantries in those communities. First, the Extension needs to identify partners who will help maintain the food stock for the pantries.

In addition, Pieper said they are preparing a movable food pantry. The first location for that will be at Anson Elementary.

“The movable pantry will be in one location for a quarter of a year, depending on how it goes,” she said.

Pieper is referring to how much traffic the location draws, how often the pantry needs to be restocked. The pantry by the Extension office gets a lot of traffic, which is determined by how often the shelves are empty. She said staff restock the shelves twice per day during the summer months.

“It’s always empty when we go out,” Pieper said. “I think it’s amazing when we go out and someone else from the community has already put food in there.”

Since the pantries are free, and anyone can take or give food, there can be instances of people abusing it, but Pieper said no one should make assumptions. For example, she said the Extension staff noticed a man driving a very nice vehicle who would get food from the pantry outside their building. One day, a staff member inquired about his needs.

“He was helping support a family who had trouble getting by,” Pieper said. “You don’t know the stories of the people taking food from the pantries. Is it sometimes people don’t need it? Maybe. But they may be helping someone who does. It is easy to jump to conclusions.”



Marshall County Extension, 2608 S. Second St.

Hope United Methodist Church, 2203 S. Third Ave.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 201 E. Church St.

Ninth and Summit, 211 N. Ninth St.

First United Church of Christ, 202 S. Fourth Ave.

Elim Lutheran Church, 302 W. Church St.

Grace Church, 311 S. Sixth St.


New Horizons Methodist Church, 224 Main St.

Community Center, 613 Main St.

Other locations:

Albion Library, 400 N. Main St., Albion

Ferguson Bible Church, 395 Second St., Ferguson

Gilman Library, 106 N. Main St., Gilman

Memorial Park, 105 Main St., Haverhill

Little League Field, 502 W. Julien St., Le Grand

South of City Hall, 201 Main St., Liscomb

St. Paul Lutheran Church, 605 First St. N, State Center

Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611 ext. 210 or lbradstream@timesrepublican.com.


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