AMES, Iowa -- Recently USDA reported that nearly 12 percent of Iowa households were “food insecure” in 2009; meaning they had difficulty providing enough food for all household members due to insufficient resources. It’s a 4 percent increase from 1998.
The number of households obtaining emergency food from food pantries also has increased dramatically. Between 2007 and 2009, the number of U.S. households using food pantries rose by 44 percent — from 3.9 to 5.6 million households. In the Midwest, the increase was 65 percent.
One way to counter the increase in food insecurity and food pantry usage is Food Assistance, a program administered by the Iowa Department of Human Services to help people with very limited income buy nutritious food.
The Iowa Food Assistance Program helps families stretch their food dollars so they can meet their basic food needs, said Kimberly Greder, a human development and family studies associate professor and specialist with Iowa State University Extension.
Food Assistance: Keeping You Healthy from Iowa State University Extension on Vimeo.
“Many Iowa households — like others across the country — have experienced job losses, declining incomes, home foreclosures and reduced net worth. These financial challenges also affect their food security — the likelihood that they have consistent, dependable access to enough food for active, healthy living,” Greder said.
That’s why ISU Extension is beginning a three-part outreach project to educate Iowans about Food Assistance and how it can help Iowans with limited incomes meet their food needs.
The project is targeted to older Iowans and individuals who access food at food pantries, Greder said. “We want Iowans with limited incomes to know that Food Assistance is a resource to help them buy nutritious food so that more of their income is available to meet other expenses, such as housing, transportation and medicine. Often, individuals with limited incomes struggle to meet these basic living needs. When people’s basic living needs are not met, they are at much greater risk for physical and mental health problems, as well as less able to adequately nurture their families and be active, contributing members of their communities.”
Peer-to-Peer for Older Adults
Extension will reach older Iowans through a peer-to-peer program, Greder explained. In 2011, ISU Extension will be training volunteers with Retired Senior Volunteer Programs (RSVP) who will go to places where older adults gather, such as congregate meal sites and community centers, in several Iowa counties.
The volunteers will explain how Food Assistance can stretch limited income to help purchase food for good health, as well as the eligibility requirements and how to apply. Individuals who would like help completing an online application can call the participating RSVP office to request to meet with a volunteer.
Work with Food Pantries
In March, ISU Extension will be partnering with food pantries in several Iowa counties to survey their clients.
“We hope to determine how widespread food insecurity is among people who visit food pantries,” Greder said. “We’ll also ask about their participation in the Food Assistance program and what they perceive as barriers to participation.”
In addition, the survey will gather data on the prevalence of certain health risks, such as diabetes and heart disease, among food pantry clients, Greder said.
In the third part of the outreach effort, ISU Extension will collaborate with food pantries in Henry, Scott, Wayne and Woodbury counties to provide short face-to-face information sessions on Food Assistance for their clients.
The Iowa Department of Human Services also is partnering with the Iowa Food Bank Association and the Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) to help Iowans with limited incomes learn about Food Assistance and how it potentially can help them meet their food needs. For more information about these efforts, contact Jordan Vernoy, Iowa Food Bank Association, firstname.lastname@example.org and Sarai Rice, DMARC, email@example.com.
Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations, 515-294-0775,