Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig announced a new grant program June 29 to help Iowa food pantries meet increasing food demands due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the Pack the Pantry program, food pantries can apply for funding to increase their refrigeration capacity, allowing them to offer more locally grown and produced foods to people in need, especially foods that are more perishable.
The program is made possible by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act and is an initiative of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Feeding Iowans Task Force. The Iowa Egg Council is also contributing resources to support the effort.
Through Pack the Pantry, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship will award local food pantries up to $10,000 to install refrigeration and cooler units. To apply, pantry directors should fill out the online application by midnight July 17.
More locally produced food
“In Iowa, we’ve seen our ag producers, business owners and families step up to help those in need,” said Gov. Reynolds, when the new program was announced. “This is a great next step to address food insecurity. The Pack the Pantry grants will provide food pantries with the tools they need to help even more Iowans have access to nutritious food.”
Food pantries are the first local line of defense against hunger in communities across Iowa. “More refrigeration at food pantries means more Iowa eggs, dairy, produce and meat can get on plates where it’s needed most. I’m grateful that our farmers can be part of that solution,” Naig said.
“Refrigeration capacity is a barrier which limits the ability of food pantries to provide their clients with fresh protein and dairy products. This issue is especially acute in rural Iowa,” said Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, chair of the Feeding Iowans Task Force. “With demand for food assistance at record highs, these dollars will go a long way in expanding food pantry capacity.”
A summary of food resources available to those in need is available at coronavirus.iowa.gov.
Connecting dots for food, ag
“The Pack the Pantry program is a continuation of our efforts to connect the dots between Iowa agriculture, our farmers, and trying to meet the needs of food insecure Iowans,” Naig said. “To increase this effort earlier this year, we started by introducing the Pass the Pork program and recently added the Beef Up Iowa program.”
IDALS worked with food pantries to identify their needs, one of which is refrigeration. “It’s a challenge to keep perishable food products available for distribution by food banks” Naig said. “So, we’re offering up to $10,000 per grant, depending on the size of the food bank operation and the kind of unit they need.”
The goal is for food pantries to provide more locally produced foods such as eggs, dairy, meat and vegetables. “It’s a challenging time for a lot of people, with pandemic-related issues affecting the economy and people’s health,” Naig said. “We are very proud of the Iowa ag community, which is also experiencing challenges and may need more government funding help to remain financially viable. We’re going to try to keep working to connect all the dots.”
More federal help for ag coming?
Congress is considering passage of another round of possible federal funding to boost the nation’s economy. It’s called the HEROES Act — the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act. This proposed legislation could provide $3 trillion in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Agriculture could potentially get some of that aid.
“The federal assistance that’s been given to date with the CARES Act and previous programs is much needed and appreciated, as agriculture has been one of areas of the economy that have received aid,” Naig said. “Yet, markets for ag commodities continue to experience downward pressure and low prices. I hope we’ll see some additional assistance provided by the HEROES Act. We need some relief for commodities that were left out of the CARES Act federal assistance program — mainly turkey producers, egg production and renewable fuels.”