The 15-foot overhead doors at the back of the Food Bank of Iowa are raised more than 20 times a day, Monday through Friday. The opening doors are an indication of food insecurity in central Iowa. Because nearly each time the doors open, a school, food pantry, or shelter arrives to pick up food to fill hungry mouths in their communities.

The Food Bank provides food to about 400 non-profit partner agencies in 55 Iowa counties. Bruce Jones is the man everyone meets when dropping off or picking up donations at the Food Bank’s distribution center. About half of the food distributed by the Food Bank is donated, with much of it coming from local businesses such as Mrs. Clark’s Foods in Ankeny, Barilla in Ames, and Campbell’s Nutrition in Des Moines. Smaller donations, collected via food drives or simply food donated by individuals and families, frequently come through the doors. For Jones, distribution center worker at the Food Bank of Iowa, it’s the small donations that stand out.

“What gets me is the small donations from a mom, dad, and kids,” Jones quietly observed. “Just the fact that a kid would have a drive for his tenth birthday. That’s pretty awesome. That’s people helping people.”

Jones has worked at the Food Bank since 2001. He’s worked in the food industry in one form or another, holding jobs such as wheat tender and spice miller on the production side, for most of his life. When it was time to make a change in 2001, he said, “The food industry had been very good and it was steady work, so I wanted to continue in the field.”

Nevertheless, it’s the people who make the job with the Food Bank special for Jones.

“I get the privilege of meeting people from all across the state and all walks of life,” Jones said. “Some of them are retired people looking to volunteer. On the other hand, it always lifts the spirit to see the younger generation taking time out of their busy schedules from work, school, or their families to give back to the community.”

On a cool, rainy fall day, Jones met Linda Shanks, who arrived in a sedan to pick up an order for the newly opened Food Bank at Clive Community Services. The order had been placed online and was ready to go when Shanks arrived. In addition to collecting the order, she, like all clients, was given 20 minutes to shop for extra items—things that aren’t part of the regular inventory and vary from day to day.

Shanks and Jones perused the selection of extra items, which Shanks called “a treat, something that adds variety.” She selected eggs, grapes, pre-packaged salads, Meyer lemons, crackers, and juice. That complemented her order that included a variety of canned and boxed foods.

Orders can range in size from 20 pounds to several thousand pounds. Clients who order more than a ton of food are scheduled for two 20-minute slots to pick up their orders and shop for extras. Those picking up orders arrive in anything from compact cars to large trucks. About the time Shanks left, a pick-up truck from the Johnston Community School District drove into the warehouse to collect two pallets of the school backpacks that help feed students when they are not in school.

It’s a steady stream of traffic in and out of the warehouse. While there is satisfaction is seeing the tons and tons of food flow out into the community, Jones reiterates that it’s the small-scale donations that inspire him.

“It is always a gift to hear from or see firsthand the giving and thoughtful hearts and souls that I am blessed to share my day with each week at the Food Bank,” he mused.

— Tracy Petersen, Hunger Correspondent