Lincoln, Neb. — Since 2015, Dakota County’s Voices for Food Council has taken a unique approach to addressing food insecurity in Northeast Nebraska.
Volunteers run a community garden specifically to ensure that the program’s food pantries are well stocked with fresh, locally produced vegetables. Local gardeners with an abundance of sweet corn, tomatoes or zucchini can donate produce to the pantries, which allows the program to serve even more people. A network of volunteers from across the county work to transport and distribute food.
This past summer, as the COVID-19 pandemic caused demand to swell, Voices for Food volunteers coordinated drive-through pantries to distribute food quickly and safely. Over the course of the pandemic, Voices for Food facilitated the process of serving more than 10,000 people in coordination with the food bank.
“There were a lot of people that were scared – scared of the virus, scared of not having a job, scared of not being able to feed their family,” said Brenda Sale, a Nebraska Extension associate based in Dakota City, who coordinates the program. “It was really cool to have a system in place of community people started through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to provide that outreach and make the community connection.”
The program’s unique approach and broad reach caught the attention of Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, who will recognize the program during the 2020 ServeNebraska Step Forward Awards on Oct. 29.
Since its inception six years ago, Dakota County Voices for Food volunteers have worked to decrease food insecurity by distributing over 60,000 pounds of produce. The majority of produce distributed is raised by the Voices for Food garden committee, who operate the Cooperative Learning Garden, led by Master Gardener Marion Cain.
The pandemic underscored the importance of the program. On March 19, when Voices for Food held its first drive-through pantry, they ran out of food and had to turn away 30 cars.
After that first experience, the Voices for Food council rallied the community to donate food, time and money so they wouldn’t have to turn away anyone going hungry again. The response was overwhelming, Sale said.
“Anytime you asked anybody for anything, they were willing to do it and willing to help,” she said. “We had 17 different community service agencies and 23 stakeholder groups that helped with transport, packing and donations. Anytime anybody found out what we were doing, they wanted to get involved. It was really cool to see.”
The ServeNebraska Step Forward Awards outstanding people and groups for their time and service. The Step Forward Awards will be held online on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. Registration is free.
Natalie Jones | IANR Media