July 3, 2020

Grinnell received a visit at the offices of the Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation on June 22, from Gov. Kim Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg. Reynolds said she had read of the Grinnell Food Coalition and wanted to hear about it first-hand. The state officials heard Grinnellians describing how food insecurity and child care for essential workers are being addressed by Grinnellians helping their fellow citizens.

Joe Bagnoli, a member of the Grinnell Food Coalition, describing the local program which provides bi-weekly vouchers redeemable at Fareway, Hy-Vee, McNally’s and the local Farmers Market, to those in need as a result of unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He noted that the coalition is currently serving around 100 families, about 20 percent of estimates of county families who lost jobs during the pandemic, and describing ways the coalition created a resource guide listing a wide range of local services for those newly unemployed and unfamiliar with how to access help.

Bagnoli several times emphasized that the coalition is one of many community partners working together to help those the economic effect of the pandemic have harmed. He said broad community partnerships have created a public-private-school-church partnership and introduced other partners.

Supt. Janet Stutz said the school district is providing 4,000 “grab-and-go” meals per week, noting those are for children ages one to 18 and that parents or other family members in the home can still be food-insecure. The school district is including coalition vouchers in the meals as well as a flier explaining how to receive vouchers regularly.

Bagnoli noted that the Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation, host of the gathering, has provided back office support and created marketing materials, including the fliers seeking those in need and the resource guide, so popular the foundation had no copies to provide to Reynolds.

Grinnell City Manager Russ Behrens told Reynolds that the city had applied for and been granted $45,000 in state grants of federal CARES Act funds, giving $25,000 to the coalition and $20,000 t0 the new local child care provider, LINK Grinnell. Behrens thanks Reynolds for the grant.

Reynolds and Gregg described several state programs designed to combat food insecurity, including helping food banks get stocks of food during the worst to the pandemic, a program distributing beef to get hogs which would otherwise have been destroyed due to lack of packing plant capacity to rural lockers to be butchered and donated to food banks, and consideration being given to doing the same with turkey and eggs.

Bagnoli noted that another partner is the Grinnell Ministerial Association, adding that Grinnellians are fortunate to live in a community where the coalition’s biggest problem is finding people in need who have not come forward to ask for help.

Grinnell College Chaplain Deanna Shorb agreed, noting that families with children can be found in several ways but families without children and the elderly can also be in need and be harder to find if they do not step forward to request help.

Bagnoli said that the coalition has created ambassadors, people whose work places them in contact with the food-insecure and has given them applications and grocery vouchers to hand out to make recipients aware of the program. He introduced Mindy Clayton of MICA, several of whose employees are ambassadors.

LINK Grinnell Director, Chad Nath, explained to Reynolds that LINK received a grant like that for the coalition from federal pandemic funds and used the grant to pay for child care for essential workers such as those in hospitals, nursing homes and food service so the parent paid nothing for child care while performing essential duties. Nath thanked Reynolds for the Department of Human Resources processing licenses quickly for child care during the worst of the emergency shutdown.

Reynolds asked what other needs people in the community have, and Stutz responded that the schools expect to see children in the fall who need to improve their social and emotional health once the lockdown and closure of schools are over.

Bagnoli told Reynolds that “I’ve been amazed at both the generosity in the community and the creativity in the community in terms of finding solutions.” Nath agreed, nothing that “the community is amazing. All we have to do is ask, and we get tremendous support.”

Reynolds closed the meeting by saying: “This is incredible. Thank you so much. On so many levels, you’re just stepping out and taking care of your community and Iowans.

“Sometimes all we hear is the bad stuff,” Reynolds said in conclusion. “I can’t even begin to tell you how good it is to hear about these things. I’m proud of Iowa, and this is a great, great example of people stepping up in the local community and not just identifying a need but actually making a solution happen.”

Stutz, who arrived in Grinnell in 2016, is completing her fourth year as superintendent. She told Reynolds that, “in 35 years of working in education I’ve never seen anything like this community. It’s amazing the support we get.”