HACAP working on project to provide fresh produce, ‘culturally diverse’ food to area pantries

Updated: May. 11, 2021 at 6:07 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Food pantries in eastern Iowa say they are seeing not just a need for food, but also more culturally diverse foods, and the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program is working with local partner agencies to achieve this.

Staff members at the Hoover Elementary Food Pantry in Cedar Rapids are working harder to keep up with demand.

“It’s significantly grown,” Lemi Tilahun, the school’s community school coordinator, said.

The pantry opened in 2019 after a needs-based assessment showed food insecurity was a major issue, as was access to culturally diverse foods, even with a more diverse neighborhood. Hoover is one of the district’s most diverse schools, with students of numerous nationalities and about 80% minority.

“Fall of 2019, we had we were serving on average a week about 24 families, " Tilahun said.

That’s until the pandemic hit, which came with school closures and families who may have lost income, and they felt the impacts.

“We had to ramp up our operations from serving every two weeks to weekly,” Tilahun said.

At the peak, the pantry was serving 50 to 80 families a week, as well as doing home deliveries, and they are still trying to keep up with demand to get the most needed items to families.

“We need things like bananas and plantains. Any fresh produce like tomatoes and potatoes are pretty high, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables,” Tilahun said.

The pantry works with HACAP, as one of their partners sending culturally-diverse foods. They originally started purchasing items with help from a $300,000 grant from Feeding America.

“Our goal is to connect these families with a local pantry they can visit to get food that they may normally buy because they can’t find them at a pantry,” Kim Guardado, HACAP’s food reservoir director, said.

With the demand increasing, this year through their Eastern Iowa Freedom from Hunger Program, they are asking for donations and working with local growers to get fresh produce.

“The biggest challenges is a lot of these foods especially the different rice and beans we have to purchase from outside suppliers and they’re more expensive,” Guardado said.

However, Guardado knows after this year how important having this food can be.

“Many people have comfort foods, foods that when we’re not feeling well or when we’re faced with a lot of stressed, and we want to go to those comfort foods,” Guardado said. “It’s important for us to think about the comfort food for all people.”

People who want to help with donations can reach out to HACAP or Hoover Elementary’s Food Pantry.

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