Food Insecurity 2022

The Problem of Hunger: Doing Our Part

A couple months into the COVID-19 pandemic, a Des Moines grandfather needed food for his extended family. Although he had a good job at the post office, his three adult children had all lost their jobs and moved their families into his home. His income alone wasn’t enough to cover expenses for the 14 people now in his household, so he went to Bidwell Riverside Center’s food pantry looking for help.

“His family is a good example of how food insecurity has impacted working families in the pandemic,” said Missy Reams, Bidwell’s volunteer and community outreach manager. “So many families are working, but for a variety of reasons they still can’t make ends meet. Someone might be working in a retail or food service job and have their hours cut. Or a daycare has to shut down for two weeks to quarantine, and the parents don’t have jobs that let them work from home.

“The cost of food has increased 66 percent in the last couple years, but SNAP benefits [the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for low-income people] have only increased by 25 percent,” Reams said. “The cost of heat and other expenses have also gone up. Many families who were just getting by before the pandemic are really struggling now.”

This increasing food insecurity — limited or uncertain access to adequate food — is consistent with national trends since the start of the pandemic. About 35 million Americans were food insecure in 2019, according to Feeding America, a national hunger relief organization. That number rose sharply to 45 million Americans in 2020, and is at 38 million today — fewer people than at the start of the pandemic, but still higher than pre-pandemic numbers. Rates of food insecurity are the highest for families with children, communities of color, and rural communities.

Giving back

Grinnell Mutual has called Grinnell, Iowa — a rural community of just over 9,000 people in Poweshiek County — home since 1934.

In 2022, according to the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, 8.2 percent of Poweshiek County residents, including 10.4 percent of local children, face food insecurity.

According to Feeding America, rural communities have higher rates of food insecurity and hunger than urban areas. Rural areas face challenges such as lack of transportation options to get to grocery stores or food pantries, job opportunities concentrated in low-wage industries, higher unemployment rates, and a higher percentage of people living below the poverty line.

As one of the largest employers in Grinnell, one of the company’s missions is to be a good corporate citizen to the local community.

“We’re fortunate to be located in this great community,” said Dave Wingert, Grinnell Mutual’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. “We want Grinnell to continue having a good school system and hospital, thriving businesses and agricultural communities, and a safety net for when people need help. We have a responsibility to help keep the community strong, and we take that very seriously.

“We’ve been in rural Iowa since 1909, so our roots here run deep. We know there are people in this community struggling with hunger and poverty. And there are great local organizations working to provide a safety net to those in need. When those organizations need help, they know they can call us.”

When that phone rings, Barb Baker — Grinnell Mutual’s community relations director for more than 20 years — is usually the one to answer it.

“I serve on lots of committees in town, and I make sure we collaborate with key organizations and community leaders to address food insecurity and other important issues,” Baker said. “I like to keep my ear to the ground and keep in touch with the schools and local non-profits, so the company is aware of the community’s needs. I tell them, ‘Call me when you need something and let me see how we can help.’”

Employees pitching in

That help can take many forms, from supporting childcare programs so parents can work, to donating to hospitals throughout the area, to helping pay for weekly Tiger Packs — backpacks filled with food to help see food-insecure kids through the weekend. Last summer Grinnell Mutual cafeteria staff worked with a local community childcare and reading assistance program to provide the children with fresh and healthy snacks.

Each year, Grinnell Mutual employees get eight paid hours to volunteer. Linda DeHoedt, a Grinnell Mutual reinsurance claims assistant, used her employee volunteer hours to hand out food boxes for the Grinnell Food Coalition last year. The coalition was started in 2020 to address rising local food insecurity, with volunteers like DeHoedt handing out about 1,200 boxes of food to those in need, according to Jennifer Cogley from the Ahrens Foundation, a local organization that spearheads the Grinnell Food Coalition.

Donna Ray, a Grinnell Mutual reinsurance technical specialist, volunteers at the Montezuma (Iowa) Food Pantry for a few hours after work on Thursday afternoons. As a recent empty-nester, Ray has more free time now and wanted to give back to the community.

“Volunteering at the food bank has really opened my eyes and made me more compassionate for people who might be struggling,” Ray said. “I like being able to help people out a little bit and be a smiling face for them.”

When the 2020 derecho tore through Grinnell and the entire town was without power for five to 10 days, Grinnell Mutual partnered with the police and fire departments to grill dinner for 1,500 people, many of whom hadn’t had a hot meal for a week.

“As we’re starting to hire more employees in the Des Moines area, and now even throughout the country, our giving has expanded to support communities wherever our employees live and work,” Baker said. “But our base will always be in Grinnell and it’s important for our giving to reflect that.”

Fighting food insecurity at Forward Mutual Insurance

The small but mighty staff of five at Forward Mutual Insurance Company in Ixonia, Wisconsin, held two food drives last winter, one around Thanksgiving and one around Christmas. They followed a “Reverse Advent Calendar” they found online that lists a different food item to collect each day for 24 days. At the end of the drives, they had full boxes of food to take to their local Ixonia Food Pantry. 
“It was a nice way to have fun together as a staff while making a donation to support our community,” says Sarah Mueller, president of Forward Mutual. “It feels good to help people.”

The company is also a long-time supporter of their local FFA chapter. Last year they partnered with the FFA to buy cheese from a nearby cheese manufacturer for school lunches.

“We were really happy to be part of that project,” Mueller said. “We liked that it all benefited our local community — the FFA, the cheese manufacturer, and the schools.”   

How you can help

If you want to help the hungry in your community by working with food banks, here are three things you can do. Go to to find your local food bank(s).


Feeding America is a nationwide network of 200 food banks — large warehouses that collect and distribute food to a network of about 60,000 food pantries and meal programs across the country. Most U.S. food banks and pantries use volunteers in some capacity, with more than half relying entirely on volunteers, according to Feeding America.

“Every year we get about 8,400 volunteers who put in more than 30,000 hours,” said Annette Hacker, communications manager at the Food Bank of Iowa. “We couldn’t fulfill our mission without them.”

Donate money.

In addition to holding food drives in the office, Grinnell Mutual employees also have “virtual food drives” that allow employees to donate money online. Virtual food drives have been especially desirable in the last couple years as more employees are working from home.

Donating money is a great way to support food banks and pantries because often they have arrangements with suppliers and can stretch their dollars further than individual purchasers can, according to Feeding America. Buying food with donated funds also eliminates time and resources volunteers spend sorting and inspecting donated food items.

Donate food.

Though monetary donations do go further, food donations are still crucial for food banks and pantries. At the Food Bank of Iowa, for instance, 40 percent of the food is donated from individuals and businesses; the rest comes from the USDA or is purchased with donated funds. Feeding America recommends contacting your local food bank or pantry before donating food or hosting a food drive, to make sure you’re donating items they need and to get advice for hosting a drive.

Feeding America recommends contacting your local food bank or pantry before donating food or hosting a food drive, to make sure you’re donating items they need and to get advice for hosting a drive.