Writer: Andrea Love
For many, thoughts of the holiday season include celebrations with friends and family, abundant food, and a feeling of thankfulness. But for those facing food insecurity, the season can be fraught with uncertainty as they wonder where their next meal will come from.
Here are some organizations that help others enjoy a full table and a brighter holiday.
Bidwell Riverside Center
As one of the largest food pantries in Iowa, this organization typically draws the most pantry visitors every year during November and December, says Alison Hanner, director of development and public relations. On average, the pantry provides free food to 3,500 food-insecure individuals during nonholiday months. During November 2020, they served nearly 5,200 people, and in December 4,736.
“Whether it’s because of the holidays or end of year, people are stretching their dollars a little more,” Hanner says. Every year, Bidwell offers extra protein servings to pantry visitors in an effort to make Thanksgiving and Christmas meals more special. Around Thanksgiving, the organization distributes donated turkey, ham and chicken. At Christmas, the extra protein provided depends on what the organization can purchase in bulk from the Food Bank of Iowa, but typically includes chicken, pork chops or patties, chorizo or hamburger.
Hanner says they also request food donations from the public that can be used to prepare traditional holiday side dishes. “We want to make sure our friends, family and neighbors who use the food pantry [are] able to have a special holiday experience,” she says.
Hanner adds that Bidwell’s goal is to be a reliable and welcoming resource. “We help everyone, from those who are residing in homeless camps to people in corporate jobs who are stretched too thin,” she says. “Whatever their situation, we want them to know that we are a judgment-free place and want to make sure everyone is fed.”
St. Vincent de Paul
This organization provides holiday meal programs for both Thanksgiving and Christmas at their two Des Moines food pantry locations. Volunteers hand out holiday meal packs to an average of 1,200 people throughout November and December. The meals include meat or a meat card, to accommodate culturally diverse populations, stuffing mix, mashed potato ingredients and a variety of fresh produce donated by Capital City Fruit. While St. Vincent de Paul accepts donations of purchased frozen turkeys, Executive Director Steve Havemann says financial contributions help the organization reach more people. “Monetary donations are fantastic because we can purchase items at lower cost from the Food Bank of Iowa, Fareway, B&B Grocery and Hy-Vee, which sell to us at greater discounts in bulk,” he explains.
In addition, you can help by volunteering to distribute meals. “This is a huge volunteer effort,” Havemann says. “We put together a schedule in 15-minute increments for people to come pick up holiday meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
Due to increasing food prices and food supply shortages resulting from the pandemic, Havemann anticipates the holiday meal program will be even more critical this year. “It is more important than ever to make it affordable for folks to have a good holiday season,” he says.
While Hope Ministries offers free meals three times a day all year at their Hope Cafe, they ramp up meal services on Thanksgiving and Christmas. In addition to providing special holiday meals at the cafe, volunteers deliver free meals within the metro area.
Kathy Coady, the organization’s director of development and community relations, says on Thanksgiving and Christmas day alone, Hope provides 5,000 to 7,000 free meals. During November and December, she expects they will serve around 30,000 total meals.
“Some people will eat one meal with us, and some will be eating three meals a day every day during those two months,” Coady says.
How to Help
Bidwell Riverside Center
Donate food at Bidwell, 1203 Hartford Ave. Volunteers are needed in the food pantry year-round, and additional volunteers are needed on the days they distribute turkeys and extra meat packages. Volunteer spots are released on the website, bidwellriverside.org, three weeks before each holiday. The website also has information on making a financial donation.
St. Vincent de Paul
Donate food at 1426 Sixth Ave. or 520 Army Post Road. Financial donation information and volunteer opportunities can be found at svdpdsm.org, or call 515.282.8327, ext. 10.
Food donation drives are held the day before Thanksgiving and on Christmas Eve from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Bethel Mission, 1310 Sixth Ave. A list of needed food items will be posted at hopeiowa.org, where you can also find donation and volunteer opportunities.
Iowa Stops Hunger is a Business Publications Corporation initiative to raise awareness of hunger in Iowa and inspire action to combat it.