This month, the Land O’Lakes Foundation First Run program donated 40,000 lbs. of macaroni and cheese to the Food Bank of Iowa in Des Moines. The product will be distributed to 285 partner agencies in 42 counties throughout the state, as well as an additional 13 counties through its redistribution organization, the Food Bank of Southern Iowa.
What makes our product donation unique is that it’s a premade, easy-to-fix option for recipients.
“The 5 lb. bags of Land O’Lakes macaroni and cheese are perfect for the clients we serve,” said Carey Miller, executive director for the Food Bank of Iowa. “It can be paired with meat and produce clients receive from our partner agencies. And it’s great because no additional milk is needed.”
As Miller guided three Land O’Lakes corporate board members through the distribution center, she explained the ways they get food to people in need.
“Our partner agencies and food bank programs have access to an online ordering system 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Miller. “They order food based on the needs of their clients. The food is then distributed by us or picked up by the agency or program.”
There are a number of companies like Land O’Lakes that donate product, but that’s not the only source of support for the Food Bank of Iowa, a member of the Feeding America food bank network.
“We partner with a great farming family in Madrid, Iowa,” said Miller. “They designate seven acres of their land for volunteers to plant, maintain and harvest produce. We also partner with the Newton Correctional Facility where inmates plant, grow and harvest food on 12 acres of land.”
The food bank also relies on donations from retailers throughout the Des Moines area.
“We receive food donations from a number of places,” said Miller, nodding toward a stack of crates filled with various breads. “For instance, we will pick up bagged spinach that is set to expire the following day, bring it back to the distribution center and freeze it to maintain quality.”
To help clients get the most out of the produce they receive, Miller and her team turn to Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
“The horticulturists help develop great materials for our recipients,” she said. “The handouts focus on the benefits, storage and uses of the produce that we distribute.”
More than 21 million children qualify for free or reduced-price meals throughout the National School Lunch Program and the National School Lunch Breakfast Program. Many of these children count on the meals they receive during the school day to get enough to eat, making weekends an especially vulnerable time.
Near the end of the tour, Miller stopped next to a crate of peanut butter to explain how the food bank and partner agencies reach these children—and their families—in need. As part of the Feeding America BackPack Program™, the Food Bank of Iowa and its partner agencies fill students’ backpacks with a variety of foodstuff to help them get through the weekend.
Knowing that the students share the food with their families, the program aims to fill backpacks with enough food to make at least two meals and have snacks on hand including cereal, fruit cups, sunbutter or peanut butter, 100 percent fruit juice, pop-top meals or soup. The Food Bank of Iowa expects to serve more than 4,800 low-income children through the BackPack Program™ in 2015.
It takes 17 full-time employees and countless volunteers to keep the food bank and its programs running, something Miller doesn’t take for granted.
“Our employees and volunteers help unload, sort and pack food,” she said. “And our drivers cover 30,000 square miles each year. We appreciate what everyone does for the food bank.”
At the end of their tour, Miller and the board members watched as workers finished unloading a semi-truck of what seemed to be an endless supply of macaroni and cheese. But even though 40,000 lbs. is a lot, the stockpile won’t last long.
“As soon as we get it into the system—likely today—agencies will start ordering it and distribution will begin tomorrow,” she said. “This product is cream of the crop and it will go fast.”
About First Run
The First Run program, part of the Land O’Lakes Foundation, provides fresh product made by our Land O’Lakes, Inc. plant employees for donation to food banks across the country.
*A.J. Graves is the community relations manager at Land O'Lakes.