By Anne Marie Amacher
BETTENDORF – Having mobile food pantries travel throughout a 22-county area of eastern Iowa and western Illinois helps provide awareness about the problem of hunger, says Caren Laughlin, marketing director at River Bend Foodbank.
The Foodbank, which is based in Moline, Ill., but is moving to Davenport this year, has a truck that offers mobile food pantries three times a month in its service area. One is held in the Quad-City area each month and two in the outer counties.
Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf hosted a mobile food pantry Jan. 18 in the school gym.
Deacon John Weber, who serves Lourdes and is a River Bend Foodbank board member, arranged for the mobile pantry.
Although the weather kept the number of guests down, volunteers came out in droves. Laughlin said this was the first time she had seen a human chain form to unload a truck and pass two lines of food through the entry way and into the school gym. More volunteers placed the food in designated spots in the gym and others opened boxes and sorted items.
Deacon Weber said it was “awesome” to see so many more volunteers than have participated in the past two mobile pantries at Lourdes.
Laughlin said volunteers learn to realize that hunger happens here at home in the Quad Cities. “Hunger is hidden,” she said. “About one in five children in Scott County do not know where their next meal will come from.”
The food for the mobile pantries comes from River Bend Foodbank’s warehouse. Deacon Weber said an anonymous donor paid the fee to cover expenses for the mobile pantry’s visit to Lourdes.
The annual Student Hunger Drive each fall provides a big boost to the Foodbank, which is low on canned goods at that time of year. Getting more nutritious food into homes is also important, so the Foodbank is building on resources for fresh produce donations.
“We have long relied on non-perishables,” Laughlin said. But people know they need to eat healthier and the Foodbank is trying to provide for that need. “Many of the children prefer fresh produce over sugary foods.”
When perishable foods arrive, turn-around is two or three days. Some mobile food pantries, such as Lourdes, come during an off-time for fresh produce donations.
Guests at Lourdes signed in and received a number, then sat at tables waiting to be called to enter the gym. Volunteers helped load red wagons or other carts with the donated food, and also helped the guests load the items into their vehicles. Because of the low turnout, people were able to take extra food home.
Volunteer Rachel Jennings, a sophomore at Assumption High School in Davenport, said she helped at a mobile food pantry in October and wanted to do it again. Although many from her basketball team volunteered with her at Lourdes, their attendance wasn’t required. Rachel’s sister, junior Erin Jennings, said she has helped at Café on Vine in Davenport and liked the opportunity to help at a mobile pantry.
River Bend Foodbank distributes around 600,000 pounds of food each month. In its first year in 1982, the agency distributed 250,000 pounds in one year. As the need for food increases, the Foodbank has decided to move to a site in west Davenport that provides more cold storage space. The agency is also seeking donations from grocery stores, especially of produce, to meet demand.
“The Quad Cities is tremendously generous and a caring community. We encourage people to step up and volunteer whenever they can,” Laughlin said.