Fighting Food Insecurity and Poverty in Johnson County This Holiday Season

With winter fast approaching, nonprofit organizations in the Iowa City area, such as the Crisis Center, the Shelter House, and the Free Lunch Program of Iowa City, are all doing their part this holiday season to make sure no one goes without a meal or a warm place to sleep.

For these organizations, the winter is their busiest season. With more weekly visits to the food bank, located at the Crisis Center and less beds available at the Shelter House, these organizations are working around the clock to prevent an increase in food insecurity and homelessness in Johnson County, especially this holiday season.

The food bank at the Crisis Center provides weekly grocery assistance to residents of Johnson County, Monday through Friday. Clients are encouraged to choose and take items that will work best for their family. Once inside the food bank, clients can expect to choose from nonperishable items as well as produce, bakery, deli, dairy, and health and hygiene products, all of which are provided through donations.

However, even with weekly access to the food bank, residents of Johnson County are still going hungry.

The USDA defines food insecurity as, “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.”

Food insecurity is the outright hunger and the coping mechanisms households use to prevent hunger. Additionally, it is a household situation, not an individual one since it affects everyone in a household differently. These households may not necessarily be food insecure all of the time. It may mean that individuals are making trade-offs between basic necessities and buying nutritional food at some point in time.

In Johnson County alone, 14.1 percent of adult individuals are going hungry, according to the county’s Hunger Task report, which is lower than the national average of 14.2 percent, but higher than the state of Iowa’s average of 12.1 percent.


Approximately 390,000 individuals are going hungry in the state of Iowa and around 19,000 in Johnson County alone. Of the 19,000 individuals, nearly 5,000 are children under the age of 18. These numbers tend to see a dramatic increase during the holiday season.

“Over the holidays, we tend to see more families taking advantage of our food bank,” said Sarah Benson Witry, the food bank and emergency assistance director of the Crisis Center. “The average pounds per visit has gone up by more than four pounds this year compared to last year.”

Fortunately, the Free Lunch Program of Iowa City recognizes the growing need and is stepping up to make sure no one goes hungry this winter.

The program has been serving up hot meals for citizens in the community who may not have access to food or have a tough time getting it since 1983 and have recently moved into a new building to keep up with the high demand.

“Most of our guests are from Shelter House, homeless, or very low income,” said Ronda Lipsius, co-director of the Free Lunch Program. “We have men, women and children dine with us.”

Over 900 volunteers serve and prepare nutritious meals using food donated through Table to Table, a local nonprofit organization, and from the HACAP Food Reservoir. On average, 130 meals are served each day and last year alone the program served over 41,000 meals to those in need.

“We provide a free hot meal every Monday through Saturday to anyone in the community who feels the need for a free meal. We even serve meals on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day,” said Lipsius. “We have an open door, full plate, and a no questions asked policy, so anyone who needs a free meal is welcome.”

Food insecurity and homelessness frequently go hand in hand. Families with a higher probability of homelessness often times are at a higher risk of food insecurity.

“If someone is going to be experiencing homelessness, they are also going to need some support getting food as well” said MacKenzie Bihl, marketing manager of the Shelter House. “It all kind of comes down to a financial crisis of some kind that brings them into a place of homelessness and food insecurity.”

In the state of Iowa, over 3,000 people are experiencing homelessness and last year alone the Shelter House in Iowa City housed 864 men, women, and children, an increase from 2014.

The Shelter House is the only emergency homeless shelter located in Johnson County and provides a number of different services to improve the quality of life for those experiencing homelessness. Some of those services include an emergency shelter, employment services, veteran services, housing services, drop-in services and mental health services.

Over the holiday season, the Shelter House sees a noticeable increase in clients staying at the house.

“Separate from the winter emergency shelter, we have a lot of overflow, which means people are welcome to stay in our lobby,” said Bihl. “We are given permission from the city to be able to allow people up to the maximum capacity to stay in our lobby.”

With this system in place, it allows individuals to be in from the cold and do not have to be turned away if the Shelter House does not have a bed available at the time.

As the season of giving is in full swing, there are many different ways to celebrate. The Crisis Center is encouraging residents of Johnson County to make a small monetary donation to their Project Holiday campaign and or food donations so that every family in Johnson County can put a meal on their table this holiday season. The Shelter House is also accepting donations for their out of the cold campaign to help fund the emergency shelter and keep everyone out of the cold this winter.

“Project Holiday allows families to receive a holiday meal. We try to provide a variety of food items that people can really come together around as a family and have a nice meal,” said Benson Witry. “It’s a really cool project that’s open to any of our clients and really anyone in need in Johnson County around the holidays.”


Give Back Locally This Holiday Season

Thinking about donating this holiday season, but don’t know what or where to give? Live2Give has got you covered! Here is what several Iowa City nonprofit organizations are asking for this holiday season.

Ronald McDonald House Charities Of Eastern Iowa & Western Illinois

“Creates, finds and supports programs that improve the health and well-being of children and families.”

  • Ribbon and bows
  • Holiday and winter themed wrapping paper
  • New or gently used toys
  • Pop tabs
  • Sponsor a family
  • Shop their Target wish list
  • Purchase the Southern Living’s Christmas Cookbook, all proceeds benefiting house
  • Volunteers to cook a meal or help out around the house
  • Monetary donation

Crisis Center of Johnson County

“Our vision is that every individual in Johnson County, Iowa, has support in a time of need.”

  • A monetary donation of $25 will purchase a complete holiday for a family in need
  • Volunteers to help distribute meals
  • Donations made through December 16th will be matched by The University of Iowa Community Credit Union
  • Toiletries
  • Canned and box food items within their expiration date

The Shelter House- Iowa City

 “Provides safe shelter and helps people improve the quality of their lives as they move beyond homelessness.”

  • Iowa City/Coralville bus passes (24 hour passes, and monthly passes- available at Hy-Vee customer service)
  • Deodorant (men and women)
  • Cough drops and over-the-counter medications
  • 50 juice boxes and 2 fruit trays for our Children’s Holiday Party
  • Sleeping cots
  • Sleeping bags
  • Plastic spoons and forks
  • Paper dishware (cups, bowls, plates, etc.)
  • A monetary donation for the Out of the Cold Campaign
  • Volunteers

United Action for Youth

“Through respect, excellence, collaboration, integrity, and stewardship, UAY is a safe place for teenagers under the age of twenty-one to find opportunities to create, grow, and lead.”

  • Winter clothing
  • A monetary donation
  • Baby supplies
  • Books
  • Art supplies
  • Music supplies.

Giving Tuesday: A Day for Giving Thanks


On November 29th, one week from today, the charitable season kicks off with Giving Tuesday.

Celebrated every year after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday is a movement that supports giving and philanthropy around the holiday season. It is a global day dedicated to giving back, driven by the power of social media and collaboration.

Created in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation, Giving Tuesday was started in response to consumerism in the post-Thanksgiving season.

The mission of Giving Tuesday is to connect groups of individuals, communities, and organizations around the world to celebrate and encourage giving.

By focusing on the power of social media, people from around the globe can connect with friends, family, organizations, and charities to encourage the power of giving.

Giving Tuesday 2015 Campaign by the numbers: 


There are many different ways to spread the power of giving via social media on Giving Tuesday.

  • On Twitter you can follow the @GivingTues account and use the hashtag #givingtuesday at the end of each tweet to get all of your followers involved.
  • On Facebook use the hashtag #givingtuesday and be sure to share how you are participating in the day by posting videos and images.
  • On Snapchat you can follow givingtuesday to follow the day live through images and videos.
  • Be sure to take an #UNselfie to show how you are giving and why giving is important to you. Don’t forget to post it to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to share with friends!

To find out more about the #GivingTuesday campaign and to find organizations, charities, and events in your own community, visit

Video courtesy of Giving Tuesday

National World Kindness Day: A Holiday Everyone Should Celebrate


In light of recent events, World Kindness Day could not have come at a more perfect time.

Kindness day was introduced on November 13th, 1997, by the World Kindness Movement, a collection of over twenty-five nations who came together to inspire individuals towards greater kindness. Together, they signed a “Declaration of Kindness” declaring November 13th National World Kindness Day.

Since then, it has become a 24-hour celebration dedicated to paying-it-forward and focusing on spreading kindness and compassion all over the world. It is a day that encourages individuals to overlook boundaries, race, religion, and the negativity in the world.

On National World Kindness Day, everyone is encouraged to make a declaration of kindness and complete an act of kindness. It doesn’t need to be complicated. It can begin with a simple act that leads to another. From making a small monetary donation to volunteering at a local nonprofit organization to holding the door open for someone, there are many ways to spread kindness throughout the world.

The goal of this day is to emphasize good deeds and focus on the positivity in our lives and in the rest of the world. Kindness doesn’t only have to be shared with friends and family, but also with complete strangers. Achieving a simple act of kindness can make a bigger impact on the world than any negative contribution can.

Researchers have found a positive association between happiness and kindness. An act of kindness makes people happy and people who are happier tend to be kinder to others.

World Kindness Day doesn’t have to be celebrated only once a year. Incorporate kindness into your everyday life! The act of practicing kindness is needed more than ever.

See what kindness means to others:

Video made by CNN

Picture from

Table to Table: Iowa’s Original Food Rescue Organization

Table to Table, a nonprofit organization located in Iowa City, Iowa is solving waste and hunger one step at a time. Their mission is to prevent wholesome food from going to waste by collecting it from one of forty donors each day and distributing it to individuals in need. In 2015 alone, Table to Table collected 1,487,177 pounds of nutritious food and distributed it free of charge to area agencies. Without this program, 881.3 tons of wholesome food would have ended up in the landfill last year. Since Table to Table charges no fees for its services, it relies strictly on donations from the community. If you are interested in donating or learning more about this organization, please visit

5 Ways to Give Back this Halloween

  1. Buy your last minute Halloween costume at Spirit Halloween Store

With every costume purchase, consider making a donation to the Spirit of Children program, whose purpose is to make hospitals less scary for children and their families. The donations made at the Spirit Store located in Coralville Iowa will directly benefit the children at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital in Iowa City. Each hospital uses the donations for what they need most, with the purpose of making the hospital experience better for children and their families.


2. Trick-or-Treat for a good cause 

What’s better than candy? Donations that help kids in need.

This year, trick-or-treat for more than just candy. Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF is a campaign promoted by the organization, dedicated to kids helping kids. By going door to door with UNICEF collection boxes, kids are encouraged to not only trick-or-treat for candy, but also for donations. The goal is to “help kids who need more than candy,” and for those living in impoverished countries where it may be difficult to get even the basics needed to survive.

Support UNICEF or your other favorite causes this Halloween, by going door to door for donations instead of candy.


Pic credit:

3. Volunteer at local, safe alternatives to traditional trick-or-treating 

Stay safe this Halloween.

Communities and local school districts host alternatives to trick-or-treating by passing out Halloween goodies in a safe environment for children. These events would not be able to function without the help of volunteers in the community. Check local listings to see where you can help! There is nothing better than a safe Halloween.

4. Donate your leftover candy 

Don’t feel obligated to eat all your leftover candy. Consider donating it.

Charities are looking for factory-sealed, wrapped candy donations after Halloween is over. The Ronald McDonald House here in Iowa City is taking candy donations to sweeten the days of children and families that are staying at the house.


5. Donate gently used Halloween costumes 

Don’t know what to do with your costumes after Halloween? Donate them.

Ween Dream is one of many nonprofit organizations that gives free Halloween costumes to kids in need all across the country. Most of these children would not be able to afford a costume without the help of your donation. Ween Dream is located in Louisiana, but makes it easy to donate your gently used costumes so you don’t have to put them back into storage.

Other local charities in the area such as The Ronald McDonald House and Big Brother Big Sister are also taking costume donations. Donating is the best way to get rid of that costume stash that has been taking up room in your house for years.


Pic credit:

Shelter House of Iowa City

The Shelter House of Iowa City is the only homeless center located in Johnson County. It provides safe shelter for men, women, and children and helps people improve their quality of life. They offer housing and supportive services to help individuals and families transition beyond homelessness. Here are the statistics beyond the house.



To view the full Piktochart please visit 

Ronald McDonald House Hosts its Annual Pop Tab Collection Program

Every year, The Ronald McDonald House of Iowa City hosts its annual pop tab collection program. All of the proceeds earned from the donated pop tabs go directly back to the house benefiting all of the families who stay there. To learn more on how to donate visit

The Crisis Center of Johnson County Continues to Fight Hunger with New Mobile Food Pantry


This past week, the Crisis Center of Johnson County announced its new mobile food pantry program, in hopes to combat hunger in the community. Once a month, the mobile pantry will take food to three sites in the community that are considered to be “food deserts,” an area in which it is hard to buy fresh, quality food. These sites include, Forest View Mobile Home Park, Coles Mobile Home Park and Breckenridge Estates. People who live in food deserts need hunger relief but often have a hard time getting to their local food pantry.

After concerns about people not being able to get to the food bank arose from the community of Johnson County, the mobile food pantry was launched in hopes to bring the food to those in need. The goal of the program is to make it easier on residents and families in the community to have access to fresh, high quality food.

The mobile pantry will stay for about three hours at each site and people in the community can then come and pick up food for themselves and their families. The van will be set up grocery style, where residents can shop for the items they need. According to The Crisis Center of Johnson County, the mobile pantry will serve an estimated 300 families each month.

The Crisis Center is in need of volunteers to help transport food from the center to the mobile pantry locations. Volunteers are also needed to help people sign up for services and to collect data. The mobile food pantry would not be able to run successfully without the help of volunteers.


The Crisis Center hopes this new program will become a great success and is looking to expand to other cities in the near future.

For more information about the Crisis Center of Johnson County, their new program, and how to volunteer, visit

Nonprofit Spotlight: United Action for Youth


Since 1970, United Action for Youth located in Iowa City, Iowa has been providing programs to thousands of teenagers and parents in Johnson County and other surroundings counties. It provides a creative place for youth to have a voice and give back to their community.

The primary goal of UAY is to give teenagers an opportunity to gain self-esteem, skills and leadership that will benefit them later on in life. Through respect, excellence, collaboration, integrity, and stewardship, UAY is a safe place for teenagers under the age of twenty-one to find opportunities to create, grow, and lead.

UAY programs are offered at schools and agencies throughout the Iowa City area and provide many different opportunities for youth of all ages.

The teen parent program serves pregnant and/or parenting teens under the ages of twenty-one in Johnson County. With a curriculum focused on parents being the most important teacher in their child’s life, family support workers provide in-home parenting skill training and child development education to help create a nurturing home environment.

The transitional living program provides safe and stable housing for homeless youth 17-21 years of age in the Iowa City area. It is designed to provide support and education to help youth become independent and eventually live on their own.

UAY also provides counseling services and a number of different activities and services for teens and their parents. Six licensed therapists and counselors provide assistance on topics including family conflicts, depression or anxiety, trauma, and grief and loss to teens and/or their parents.

In 2013, UAY opened its first Youth Center in Iowa City providing a safe and comfortable space for teens to hangout and express themselves through art and music. With different activities scheduled everyday, the UAY Youth Center is the perfect spot for teens to hangout after school or on the weekends.

With all the different programs and services UAY offers, they hope to continue to inspire teenagers to create bright futures with hope and promise.

For more information about the programs and services UAY provides, visit their website at

~Pictures taken from the United Action for Youth website