Fighting Hunger Here in Iowa

For those asking, “what are we doing about hunger right here in Iowa?” 

Meals from the Heartland, For the Heartland

An account of Meals from the Heartland’s local impact.

The Meals from the Heartland Packaging Center vibrates with the echo of voices, music and the buzz of rice whooshing through funnels. The bustling activity pauses for volunteers to celebrate a “Meal Count” in the upper thousands. Eighty volunteers are spending an April afternoon in West Des Moines preparing meals for the hungry.

This scene might sound familiar to the thousands of Iowans who’ve volunteered at the Packaging Center over the past eight years. If you haven’t volunteered, odds are you’ve at least heard of Meals from the Heartland, a West Des Moines nonprofit that packages and ships meals to starving people around the world.

What might come as a surprise to even those who have volunteered in the past, is that millions of these meals, grown and packaged locally—feed locally as well.

Since 2008, meals have shipped to a variety of domestic and international locations where political environments will allow for safe distribution, including Africa, Central America, the Pacific region and right here in Iowa.

The Food Bank of Iowa reports that one in eight Iowans struggle with real hunger, and one in five children don’t get enough to eat. These numbers—although shocking, prove that there’s still work to be done right here at home in the fight against hunger.

Malnourishment, the form of hunger most prevalent in Iowa, is defined as “the lack of proper nutrition, caused by not having enough to eat or by not eating enough of the right things.” By getting nutritious meal options to food pantries, shelters and school programs, Meals from the Heartland is combating malnutrition in the Midwest.

Local progress wouldn’t be possible without partnerships with local food banks. The Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) and the Food Bank of Iowa distribute the majority of domestic meals throughout the state. Last year, one million meals fed hungry Iowans.

To feed the Heartland, the organization lives up to its name by sourcing its ingredients locally.

“We always try to purchase our ingredients from local suppliers. We do have to pay for them, so we choose economical, domestic suppliers. Currently, we get our soy from Cargill in Cedar Rapids, vitamins from Outreach in Union, Iowa, and veggies and boxes from Illinois” says Susan Bunz, Meals from the Heartland’s Executive Director.

At today’s event, Meals from the Heartland volunteers are working alongside DMARC volunteers to package special “Combo Meals,” which DMARC will distribute to their local network of food pantries. These meals include standard food bank items, like canned beans, seasonings, and canned chicken, with a nutritious meal (either rice and soy or mac and cheese, enriched with vitamins.) The combination of these items produces a package that’s tasty and nutritious. Each bag includes a recipe for Taco Rice, a dinner that feeds six.

“Combo-pack events like this one provide an opportunity for two local organizations to combine resources and end up with enhanced results, while meeting both of our missions,” says Bunz of the partnership with DMARC. “By offering meals that have nutritional value and flavor, families are more likely to choose our meals at local pantries. Combo Meals ensure they get the nutrients they need, opposed to empty calories.”

Meals from the Heartland partners with hundreds of other community groups, including retirement communities, correctional facilities, churches, businesses, youth groups and elementary schools. The local support is undeniable, and the local impact is powerful. The nonprofit acts as a strengthening element in the community—providing valuable opportunities for those who can’t give elsewhere, a harbor for likeminded Iowans who have been called to help, and a lifesaver for people who need to be fed.

In order to continue feeding hungry people in Iowa and around the world, Meals from the Heartland needs donations to fund ingredients, materials and the continuing operation of the organization.

If you’d like to help fund our mission and empower thousands to save the starving, donate here.