Medea volunteers at a Farmers to Families Food Box distribution in Monmouth.

When drive-through food box distributions began last year at a Monmouth elementary school, community members who were struggling with the economic difficulties brought by the COVID pandemic were relieved to have help putting food on the table.

“People had lost their jobs and life felt on edge,” says Patty, a volunteer with the Ella Curran Food Bank in Independence who worked with Marion Polk Food Share to coordinate the distributions.

In addition to widespread unemployment or wage loss, people were juggling work schedules with teaching homebound children while trying to avoid public places to prevent virus transmission.

“All these factors make getting a food box just a little bit of extra help for them,” Patty says. “It’s been very helpful for the community.”

The USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program was established last year to provide emergency food assistance during the COVID crisis, as well as to help the food producers and distributors who were suffering due to widespread closures of restaurants, schools and other food service locations.

The program provides family-sized boxes containing high-quality fresh dairy, produce and meat products sourced from local providers. Last year, the Food Share held 182 distributions at locations throughout Marion and Polk counties, providing over 1.7 million meals for local families. The program was renewed for its fifth phase earlier this year before concluding at the end of May.

As the pandemic reached its one-year mark, Monmouth distributions were moved from the school to a parking lot in Independence due to children returning for in-person instruction. Despite such signs that the end of the COVID crisis may be in sight, demand for food boxes remained high. People still arrived over an hour early to wait in line for the distributions to begin.

Grant, left, and Emmelia volunteer at a Farmers to Families Food Box distribution.

“Every time we’ve done it, we’ve always gotten rid of every box,” Patty says.

The program’s popularity is due in part to the drive-through distribution style, which provides convenience, social distancing and a low barrier for people who might be hesitant to visit a pantry for food assistance.

“I think being able to drive up quietly and not have to stand in line at a food bank is probably a great introduction to getting a little bit of help, and it makes it easy,” Patty says.

During the distributions, many food box recipients were quick to share their stories of hardship and voice their appreciation for the assistance. For people enduring difficult circumstances, Patty says, it can be a relief to express themselves to volunteers lending a sympathetic ear.

“There is something nice about people newly losing jobs that have never used a food bank,” Patty says, “being able to drive up and say, ‘thank you, I really need it, I just lost my job’ or ‘I’m waiting for my unemployment, this really makes a difference.’”

Thank you for helping families in need in Marion and Polk counties!

“House Where You Get Food”