Since its launch in 1986, the Student Hunger Drive has brought River Bend Foodbank immense success as schools throughout the Quad Cities compete to bring in the greatest amount of donations.
Approximately 114,480 people in the area are food insecure, meaning they are unsure of where their next meal will come from, with 1 in 9 adults and 1 in 6 children being affected. The River Bend Foodbank serves over 23 counties throughout eastern Iowa and western Illinois in hopes that the two states will be hunger-free.
While the River Bend Foodbank collects donations throughout the year, the effects of the Student Hunger Drive can be seen long after it is over. Last year, the competition provided 583,317 meals for the community.
Pleasant Valley’s student council, Spartan Assembly, has had notorious success during the Student Hunger Drive, having raised over 65,000 pounds in 2019. According to executive member Allisa Pandit, the competition is one of Spartan Assembly’s biggest events throughout the year. “Student Hunger Drive is always one of the most stressful times of the year, but it’s so rewarding to our school and the rest of the community,” Pandit explained.
Spartan Assembly also devotes time during the Student Hunger Drive towards making a connection with the community and seeing the tangible results of their efforts through volunteering at the Riverbend Foodbank to fill backpacks or helping at mobile food pantries.
However, this past summer, the council was approached by the River Bend Foodbank for their opinion on whether the Student Hunger Drive should be delayed due to concerns of COVID-19.
Adviser Rachel Hart explained how the advisers and executive members met with the foodbank to discuss the substantial decision. “We – admin, Spartan Assembly advisers, and a representative from the food bank – had a meeting on Google Meets at the end of last school year to discuss the Hunger Drive and when it would be moved,” commented Hart. Due to Spartan Assembly’s significant impact on the competition, the foodbank relied on input from the council to help make the final call.
Spartan Assembly ultimately decided to vote in favor of delaying the competition until January, hoping by then they would be able to do more for the food bank. “I am extremely sad that we can’t be working on the Student Hunger Drive right now, but we have to look at how this is affecting our community. The mobile food pantries, volunteering at the foodbank, and weeks of collecting donations brings so much impact to our community,” expressed Pandit. “I wish there was more we could do to help as we wait for January to roll around.”
This decision, however, has had devastating impacts on the River Bend Foodbank. The Student Hunger Drive not only educates the community’s youth on food insecurity through volunteering and an emphasis on nutrition, but also brings in significant funds and food to the foodbank.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last spring, the River Bend Foodbank experienced an influx of people who had never relied on it before. In combination with this and the disruptions to the food supply change, the foodbank was left with less manpower and more mouths than ever to feed. This forced them to address the unfortunate dilemma of figuring out how to supply enough food to provide for those in need.
Initially, the foodbank altered their distribution methods by developing a no-contact, drive-through pick-up process. By pre-boxing food, the foodbank was able to limit the number of people in the warehouse to ensure they followed social distancing guidelines.
However, according to Liz Dierolf, Marketing and Strategic Communications Manager at River Bend Foodbank, the foodbank postponed the Student Hunger Drive out of safety and health concerns for participating students. “Because we have to postpone the [Student Hunger] Drive this year to keep everyone safe and healthy, the foodbank will have to supplement what would’ve normally been donated by purchasing food from other resources,” explained Dierwolf. This decision leaves the foodbank facing additional costs to serve the growing number of food insecure people in the community.
Even with the increased costs of supplying food, the foodbank is determined to continue to provide for the communities it serves. “River Bend Foodbank will take on the responsibility of making sure no one in the community is negatively impacted by the postponing of the Student Hunger Drive,” Dierwolf assured. “We will continue to make every dollar donated stretch to five meals for our hungry neighbors.” Thanks to donations, the foodbank has no plans to reduce provisions to partner agencies and will continue to provide food.
Although the delaying of the Student Hunger Drive has drastically impacted the River Bend Foodbank, both Spartan Assembly and the foodbank are looking to January with high hopes.