The corner of 13th and Pierce is just like any other Sioux City block, but for more than 200 people, the unassuming building is the difference between going to bed hungry or not.
Outside of a twice-a-month food pantry, the Midtown Family Community Center also promises a free meal to anyone who walks up to its door—just look for the sign.
COVID-19 forced many businesses to close or reduce hours, but food distribution sites like Midtown Family Community Center experienced a jump in clients. Coordinator Janet Reynolds saw a big difference from pre-pandemic numbers, which averaged between 30 to 40 people per meal.
“Now, like I said, we're up to two hundred a meal. So we have just you know, it's five times more now than it was before the pandemic.”
The Food Bank of Siouxland experienced a similar increase, reaching 3.6 million pounds of food distributed in 2020 and exceeding the all-time high set the year before by 1 million pounds.
"Just about anything was scarce for awhile.”
That’s Executive Director Jacob Wanderscheid on the Food Bank’s efforts to keep up with the sudden increase in demand.
“So anything we could get our hands on was important, and some things still haven’t come back.”
One of the catalysts? The high unemployment rates. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an unemployment rate of 3.6% in Sioux City in May 2021. The number peaked at 9.5% a year earlier.
“It was so many people who went from making, you know, sixty thousand dollars a year down to I'm laid off. I don't know where I go from here.”
With the loss of checks needed for rent, food and other expenses, Community Services director Antoinette Green for the Community Action Agency noticed higher numbers and new faces using their services.
We had so many people who had never been our agency before who we were able to serve with food.”
REPORTER: “Iowa is no longer participating with like the federal pandemic related like unemployment benefit programs. So do you anticipate, like another rise in some of these numbers?”
“I can see that because some people, it will impact families a lot because that's income that they have depended on for quite a while. And if they have not yet gone back to work, then you will definitely see that. Now there's a need increase because I have to use other funds to be able to purchase food and no longer have the funds available to.”
Food insecurity isn’t a new issue to Siouxland. The 2019 U.S. Census reported that 1 in 7 Sioux City residents lived in poverty. Back at the Food Bank, Wanderscheid had noticed that number decreasing for four to five years—that is, until COVID-19.
“And we really were seeing some improvement on that. Until this pandemic and they kind of quit trying to measure in 2020 what that is, and it's going to be a few years before we really know what the impact was.”
However big the impact so far and yet to come, Janet Reynolds and the Midtown Family Community Center will continue to meet their neighbors’ needs one meal at a time.
“And sometimes the best thing is when somebody says thank you, you just don't know what this means to my to me and my family. You know, we will eat tonight because of your pantry. And then it's just like, you know, it doesn't matter that it's, you know, 15 below zero wind chill factor. It doesn't matter that it's one hundred and five heat index. The fact that we know that somebody is going to go to bed with a full stomach, it just you know, it makes all that weather, all the hard work that goes into each pantry that we have to do. It just makes it all worth it.”
And for Reynolds, the pantry is more than work, it’s personal.
“Like I tell people, I know what it’s like to go to bed hungry, wake up hungry, drink water all day. You know, that’s the food we had. And so that’s why this pantry is so important to me, is because I know
what it’s like to be hungry.”
While questions remain on when food insecurity will improve, Siouxlanders wondering where to get their next meal, can find the help they need in a network of community partnership.
City of Sioux City Community Services Resource Guide: https://www.sioux-city.org/home/showpublisheddocument/21581/636874694847500000
Food Bank of Siouxland: https://www.siouxlandfoodbank.org/get-food
Midtown Family Community Center: https://www.facebook.com/Midtown-Family-695438367226682
Community Action Agency: https://caasiouxland.org/what-we-do/
2019 US Census results for Sioux City: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/siouxcitycityiowa/IPE120219#IPE120219
Midtown Family Community Center offers two food pantries each month: one on the second Friday from 3 to 5 and one on the last Thursday from 10 to 12. Volunteers also serve a free meal every Saturday from 4 to 5. You can find more information on the Midtown Family Community Center Facebook page.
Along with food assistance, Community Action Agency offers a variety of programs to assist low-income individuals and families become self-sufficient. Visit c-a-a-siouxland-dot-org or call (712) 274-1610 to learn more.
If you or someone you know is struggling to find food, you can visit the Food Bank of Siouxland’s webpage for a list of food pantries in the Siouxland area. Go to siouxlandfoodbank-dot-org and click on Get Food for more information.
* Kayla Mayer is a 2018 graduate of Gehlen Catholic High School and a student at Univerity of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. She interned for Siouxland Public Media the summer of 2021.