‘Tis The Season For Giving

By Ann Thelen

Hunger in Iowa is real, and pork goes a long way in helping to combat food insecurity.

Giving back and helping those in need is a cornerstone of the Iowa Pork Producers Association's (Iowa Pork) efforts throughout the year. During the holiday season, helping others to have hot, nutritious meals becomes even more critical. Through several programs in recent weeks, Iowa Pork producers embraced the opportunity to do more, while helping to fight food insecurity.

Giving a Hot Meal and More

On Tuesday, Dec. 3 – officially known as Giving Tuesday – a giant grocery list and huge hearts joined in Des Moines. The reason? To bring a hearty breakfast to approximately 300 people at Central Iowa Shelter & Services (CISS).

The grocery list included 1,440 eggs, 1,050 bacon slices and 680 pork sausage patties along with fruit, pancakes, beverages and table service.

"When we were looking for a charity that would appreciate a donation of pork products, it just made sense to work with the Shelter,” explains Patrick Gannon, an Iowa Pork board member and pig farmer from Colfax. “It was our way of giving back on Giving Tuesday locally, and it is part of our larger national campaign for Hams Across America, where we highlight the diverse product donations the pork industry makes throughout the year."

Each year Hams Across America kicks off on Giving Tuesday. The program's concept is simple for pig farmers or those involved in the pork industry: Give a ham to those in need or to those you care about this holiday season. The giving goes through Dec. 23. Individuals can participate by purchasing a gift of ham (or any pork product) and paying it forward to those in need.

CISS provides 150 beds in its emergency shelter. Earlier this fall, when temperatures were colder than normal, the shelter had close to 200 people several nights in a row.

“We are thrilled with this generous gift each year,” says Melissa O’Neil, CISS CEO. “We know a warm breakfast helps all of us focus and feel healthier and this joint partnership allows for a larger community to understand the challenges of finding that warm meal when you are homeless.”

Teaming up to Arrest Hunger

Approximately 375,000 Iowans struggle with food insecurity, and many are working, retired with fixed incomes or disabled, according to Michelle Book, president and CEO of Food Bank of Iowa. Feeding America shows that 1 in 9 people in Iowa struggles with hunger. For children, it’s 1 in 7. Helping to combat hunger is a real need. Iowa’s pork producers know how to help.

With the help of Iowa law enforcement personnel and Iowa Pork, among others, hundreds of Iowa families struggling with food insecurity will have happier holidays this year. On Nov. 26, law enforcement officials from across the state met to pack holiday meal kits for families who otherwise might not have enough to eat this holiday season. 

In 2018, the Arresting Hunger program provided just 150 meal kits for families. This year, the number jumped to 800 meal kits for families in need.

Meal kits were sponsored in part by Iowa Pork. Thousands of pounds of donated pork added much-needed protein to the meal. This is the first year Iowa Pork participated in the event.

Each package contained five pounds of fully cooked and seasoned pork, plus ingredients for traditional holiday side dishes, such as stuffing and canned vegetables, which could be used for Thanksgiving or saved for Christmas or New Year’s.

“We’re happy to be a part of Arresting Hunger this year. We care and want to help our community,” says Trent Thiele, president of Iowa Pork and a pig farmer from Elma. “It was an easy decision to help out, and we appreciate the opportunity to be involved.”

Murphy Tower Service, one of the original sponsors of Arresting Hunger, provided additional funds to make the event possible. Other event sponsors included Costco, Fareway, Hy-Vee, JBS, Kwik Star, Prairie Fresh, Sam’s Club, Tyson Foods and Walmart.

"Pork producers stepped up in a huge way," says the Iowa State Patrol's Capt. Ken Clary, who is also a member of the Food Bank of Iowa board and helped found Arresting Hunger five years ago. "We wouldn't have been able to do this without them."

Thiele said contributing to a better quality of life aligns with the U.S. pork industry’s We Care initiative, which promotes ethical principles producers have lived by for decades. The We Care principles include Food Safety, Animal Well-Being, Public Health, Environment, Our People and Our Community.

“It’s an event that reminds you what we pork producers are trying to do with feeding the world,” he adds.