It takes weeks to plan for a three hour food distribution

“Give the Birds” is a grassroots effort that plays to the strengths of the Van Meter company and its employees
Published: Nov. 17, 2022 at 10:20 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - When the group Iowa Giving Crew starts distributing some 1200 baskets filled with Thanksgiving food for its “Give the Birds” program, it will be the culmination of months of planning, fundraising, collecting, and assembling.

It does not happen overnight.

“It is a little bit of a ballet,” explained Jeff Miller, Van Meter Inc. Chief Information Technology and Distribution Officer.

“What’s nice now is that people have done it year over year over year so they really know what to expect when they come in.”

Think of it this way: the aisles at your local grocer are stocked and ready for you to pick the foods you’ll need for your Thanksgiving meal.

The folks behind the Iowa Giving Crew are gathering the same things - but for 1200 families.

“When those two semis show up with those 1200 Thanksgiving meals all completely separated, it’s like the drop of a hat and it begins,” said Danielle Monthei, Iowa Giving Crew Fundraising Director.

“We make sure every carton has a turkey in it, has potatoes and green beans, and bread and stuffing.”

Putting together the meals requires an assembly line and distribution process that’s been perfected by volunteers at Cedar Rapids-based Van Meter, Inc., a company best known for distributing electrical products.

In that “drop of a hat”, Van Meter’s distribution warehouses become what may be the region’s busiest grocery store.

“We use our Van Meter conveyors and our gravity machines and things to help make things lighter and to help make it easier for everybody,” Miller said.

But it’s not only equipment, it’s manpower.

Several Van Meter workers volunteer their time and talents to make sure those few hours of food distribution run as smoothly as possible.

And that means dozens of these workers will donate their own time to create a very different production line.

“There are at least 80 people helping out, packing meals,” said Monthei.

And a loading area that usually serves about 100 Van meter customers a day will become a drive-through processing 800 cars.

“This space has become a sense of community, it’s become the harvest table, the gathering area.”

It sounds like a logistical nightmare, but Miller said the work inside the Van Meter warehouses to make Sunday’s distribution started weeks ago.

“The planning takes quite a bit of time, quite a bit of effort from a lot of people and the Iowa Giving Crew is really awesome getting all that together.”

And it pays dividends for the Iowa Giving crew and the crew at Van Meter.

“There certainly is that ‘feel good’ feeling when they come in and you put the food in their car and wish them a Happy Thanksgiving.”