Feed Iowa First continues to grow following founder's death

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) -- It's been a little over six months since eastern Iowa lost an important local leader in the fight against hunger. Sonia Kendrick (Stover), the creator of Feed Iowa First, died back in March.

Since 2011, Kendrick had helped the area's food insecure with Feed Iowa First. (Joel Girdner/KCRG-TV9)

She was found, not breathing in her shop. Authorities didn't believe there was any foul play.

Kendrick started Feed Iowa First in 2011. For seven years she helped grow and then distribute fresh produce to the Linn County area's food insecure.

Her efforts earned her recognition locally and nationally. The White House dubbed her a "Champion of Change" a few years ago.

Immediately after Kendrick's death, the future of Feed Iowa First was uncertain. The founder took such a major role in the nonprofit-- losing her seemed insurmountable.

"Sonia knew how to do everything," said Lynette Richards, the nonprofit's acting director. "All the rest of us were good at small slices of the Feed Iowa First that we knew. We had to really work together to make it strong because we only knew a little piece."

Richards said by using teamwork, the nonprofit has been able to come a long way since those uncertain days.

They now have a stronger focus on fundraising, able to secure money to buy a new bus to ferry produce to those the group serves. On its side, many of the community members that make up the group. The other side showing Kendrick smiling and holding some of the food she worked so hard to grow.

Kendrick largely did the grunt work of planting and harvesting at more than 40 farming spots by herself. In her absence, Feed Iowa First has enlisted the help of Americorps VISTA volunteers.

Anne Langebartels is one of two working with the nonprofit, currently. The UNI student and graphic design major said her time helping out has been very rewarding.

"I think my favorite part of this work is going on deliveries and seeing people receive the food," said Langebartels. People's gratefulness. It's great!"

It is great-- a great accomplishment, which Richards believed would not have been possible if Kendrick wasn't motivating the person she was.

"I think because Sonia was such a strong visionary and inspired so many, there was a whole lot of us that wanted to continue it and make it better," said Richards.

To learn more about Feed Iowa First, click here to visit its website.