When it comes to folks in need, numbers show the demand - and the donations - are both rising.
The US Department of Agriculture released figures in September, showing nearly 15 percent of the nation's households in 2011 had troubles securing enough food for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
St. Stephen's Food Bank in Dubuque is undergoing a 1,200 square foot expansion project right now to meet both the demand for food and the rising number of donations.
The food bank serves more than 100 non-profit organizations in the tri-state area. Warehouse director there Kathy Hutton said they're seeing a growing demand for food, but local and national donors are also stepping up to the plate.
One of the local food pantries with which the food bank partners is at Wartburg Theological Seminary. It helps feed students, who often come to the seminary with families -- and student loans. Josh Johnson is the manager of the seminary's food pantry.
"We have about 100 students on campus. Every week I see probably roughly 50 families," Johnson said. "Any little thing like this to where we can help supplement our expenses like food is just a huge blessing for the students."
His pantry isn't alone in seeing demand, Hutton said.
"With the economy the way it is, there are people that are needy," Hutton said. "As costs rise on other products, it's really hard to keep up with everything, and a lot of people are out of work or they've had to back off to part time, so we're seeing that need."
Jeff Streinz is a board member for both St. Stephen's Food Bank and Camp Albrecht Acres, a camp for people with disabilities and one of the non-profit organizations that partners with the food bank.
"Camp Albrecht Acres saves about $70,000 a year by being able to procure the vast majority of its food needs here at St. Stephens Food Bank," Streinz said. "The food bank allows us to provide high-nutritional meals at extremely low prices, so it allows us to save money on the food budget, which allows us to serve more and more of the special needs population because then we have the funds available to do other things."
He sees the growing need at St. Stephen's as well.
"Dubuque, like most of the rest of the nation, sees a bifurcation with the needs out there," Streinz said. "I think there's a certain segment of the population that the economy has turned around and they're doing well. There's another segment of the population due to the poor economy that continues to suffer."
To help those in need of nutrition, non-profit agencies can come to St. Stephen's and buy food for pennies. The food bank charges these organizations just 18 cents per pound of food. One five-pound box of 48 Nutri-Grain bars, for example, costs a non-profit organization less than one dollar.
"It's a handling fee that helps pay for the lights and the building and the expansion and trucks and gas and everything," Hutton said of the 18-cent charge.
St. Stephen's is hoping to complete its 1,200 square foot expansion by the end of October, adding to its already-existing 4,800 square feet.
"That'll mean a lot to us. It'll hoard about another 48 palettes full of product," Hutton said.
She said the expansion shows the growth of both demand and number of donations.
"Last year we did distribute 1.2 million pounds in product," Hutton said. Compare that to the 200 pounds of food the bank distributed in 1981, its first year.
St. Stephens is always looking to partner with more non-profit agencies in the tri-state area, Streinz said. The food bank distributes to these organizations, which then give the food away to folks in need.
When it comes to donations, Hutton said money goes farther than products, since they can buy more food at reduced costs. However, Hutton said, the welcome all kinds of donations, including volunteers.
For more on St. Stephen's Food Bank, click HERE.
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