When 15,000 Iowans were packaging 4 million meals for starving people around the world during a September humanitarian effort in Des Moines, they also got an education about hunger right here in Iowa. Meals from the Heartland showed them how to package the life-sustaining meals, but ISU Extension gave them the facts about food insecurity and hunger in the state.
Those facts include 351,000 Iowans who don’t have enough food to eat, said Kim Greder, an ISU Extension family life specialist and associate professor who leads the Iowa Food Insecurity project. In 2008 more than 300,000 Iowans received food assistance — what used to be known as food stamps — a 38 percent increase from 2007. In addition, 2.3 million requests were made to Iowa food pantries and soup kitchens in 2008, a 63 percent increase from 2003.
These tough statistics were included in the Meals from the Heartland Learning Lab, a mobile semi-truck trailer that ISU Extension outfitted with educational displays about “who’s really hungry and why” in Iowa, Greder said.
The Meals from the Heartland meal-packaging project began in 2007, feeding the hungry overseas. The nonprofit organization also collects food to distribute to Iowa families. By 2009, organizers felt that although their volunteers understood the need to fight hunger around the world, they didn’t fully recognize the needs in Iowa. So they called on ISU Extension for help, Greder explained.
Meals from the Heartland provided the trailer, and ISU Extension developed self-guided educational displays to help Iowans learn about food insecurity and hunger in Iowa, Greder said. “A key part is to help people see how they can make a difference individually and collectively in lessening food insecurity and hunger.”
Food insecurity is a complex problem and affects people’s health, worker productivity, growth and development of children, sense of well-being and quality of life. Just giving people food won’t solve the problem of hunger in Iowa, Greder said. “It takes people to become involved and get to know people who are in poverty — and involving them in finding solutions.”