Midwest hunger relief efforts involve, feed many

People of all ages, from as young as 5 years old, filled Hy-Vee Hall to prepare meal packages that are provided to food banks in Des Moines, the United States and around the world. (Courtesy Meals from the Heartland)

An Iowa nonprofit takes the protein and the goodwill nurtured in the region and delivers it to the hungry — both here and abroad. Meals from the Heartland, which is based in West Des Moines, holds events to package a four-ingredient dried formula into six-serving bags than can be distributed locally or shipped internationally.

Executive Director Dave Bradley said the program will send off a total of about 7.8 million meals this year. The 4-year-old organization hosts its own events — where some 5 million meals were packaged this year — and also partners with church, school and other community groups all over Iowa. 

“This year we’re going to have a total of 80 or 90 different events,” Bradley said, involving more than 30,000 volunteers.

Ed Hall coordinated one of those events in Boone, Iowa. His group, North Central Iowa Hunger Fight, outgrew the space used in 2011 and partnered with the local school district this year so 4,000 volunteers could package 800,000 meals in a two-day period. Groups like Hall’s raise the money to pay for the ingredients and then Meals from the Heartland provides its equipment, including funnels, scales, plastic bags and the hot iron to seal them. For Hall’s event, the ingredients were delivered by the truckload in the days leading up to the packaging extravaganza — some coming directly from the source and others from Meals from the Heartland’s Des Moines warehouse.

Bradley said everything in the formula is sourced in the region: rice from Arkansas, textured soy protein from Cargill or Archer Daniels Midland, a vitamin-mineral mixture that’s manufactured in southern Minnesota and vegetables dried in Illinois.

“So all the components come right here from the heartland,” he said.  

While most of the meals are sent overseas, the Des Moines area food pantries accepted 300,000 meals this year. And Hall said he’s even delivered some out of state himself.

“In August, I took some of our food to the Rosebud Indian reservation in South Dakota,” he said.

Bradley said the feedback that he receives from both domestic and international recipients is that the nutritional content of these meals sets them apart from other relief efforts. Meals from the Heartland partners with the Springfield, Mo.-based Convoy of Hope for international distribution. More packaging events are planned throughout the holiday season.