The Food Bank of Iowa was a different organization when its doors opened in September of 1982. Located on Delaware Avenue with just over 4,000 square feet of space, it distributed 67,180 pounds of food to partner agencies in its first year of operation. At that time, the Food Bank of Iowa had 40 partner agencies that directly served food insecure Iowans.

Since then the Food Bank of Iowa has moved twice and grown its distribution by orders of magnitude. Warehouse worker and truck driver Tony Ford has been part of the team for most of this change. He got his start in June of 1998 when his mother, Founder and Executive Director Karen Ford brought him on board to address the distribution needs of their growing partner network.

Karen Ford passed away in 2009, but her legacy continues to live and grow with the organization. Tony recalls that his mother was aware of food waste and wanted to address it. She also saw the need for a food bank in Des Moines. Before founding The Food Bank of Iowa Karen  possessed nonprofit experience working with the Community Action Agency in Newton and volunteering in public policy areas. Tony believes this experience was crucial to her success in founding the organization.

In the early 1980’s, a soup kitchen opened in Des Moines with a grant of $7,000. Organizers were concerned for the longevity of the operation. Karen decided to contact Feeding America, then called Second Harvest, to begin a food bank in Des Moines. She received guidance from SuperValu to start the organization and worked with Second Harvest to receive 501(C)3 nonprofit status. The first donation was cottage cheese from Anderson Erickson diary. 

The Food Bank of Iowa of in 2019 is almost unrecognizable. In the beginning the Food Bank of Iowa operated in a ‘Food In, Food Out’ fashion, focusing only on food banking. This meant there were no volunteer or direct service opportunities. Today, there is a group of dedicated volunteers that the organization depends on for assistance with food sorting, pickups, and deliveries. The team has grown to a group of thirty-five people passionate about fighting hunger. Staff are located at the Des Moines location and at a recently acquired Ottumwa location. Throughout the years, one thing has remained the same: Tony Ford’s dedication.

“Helping hungry Iowans is Tony’s life work” says Sarah Bonefas, Director of Organizational Development and a Food Bank of Iowa veteran. “He has seen the organization grow from one woman working to feed her neighbors in need to serving nearly 175,000 Iowans every year from a 40,000 square foot warehouse with a fleet of 6 vehicles traversing over 30,000 square miles.”

Karen’s goal for the Food Bank of Iowa was to bring together all of the forces that focus on food access and food insecurity. She wanted to see the food bank serve a variety of people. She considered raising public awareness of the existence of hunger to be the biggest challenge for the Food Bank of Iowa. Tony Ford’s performance over the years has made a tangible impact on that struggle.

“With Tony’s longevity as a staff member, being part of the founding family of Food Bank of Iowa, he brings historical relationships with many of the agencies we work with,” said Sarah. “For many years, Tony was the face of the organization outside of the building as he was the only person who drove a delivery distribution route. When on the road delivering, meeting up with partners, Tony knows everyone by name and always has a smile and extra hand to help. Tony brings historical knowledge and has relationships that no other staff members have.”

Tony says it is neat to see the growth of the organization since he started as a warehouse worker and truck driver. He remembers when operations were so small that there was one telephone in the building. When asked what Karen would think about the Food Bank of Iowa’s growth, Tony said, “I would think she’d think it’s positive. There are a lot more agencies that have come on board.” This is certainly true. Our network has grown to more than 600 partners — and more agencies means more food reaching the hands of Iowans in need.