University of Iowa Food Pantry sees increased clientele during pandemic

Since reopening on May 20, the University of Iowa Food Pantry has distributed over 12,000 pounds of food to faculty, staff, and students in need.


Tate Hildyard for The Daily Iowa

The West Side Food Pantry is seen in the University of Iowa Pride Alliance Center on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. The pantry is about to celebrate its first year in the Pride Alliance Center.

Lillian Poulsen, News Reporter

Due to recent budget cuts at the UI and the loss of jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, the University of Iowa Food Pantry has distributed 12,228.5 pounds of food since it opened at the start of the summer.

Executive Director Charlotte Lenkaitis said this is a significant increase from the 1,905.5 pounds it distributed last summer. Since reopening on May 20, she said it has distributed to more UI faculty, staff, and students in need.

“Normally we don’t see too many staff members over in the UI health care department, but I’ve had a lot more staff members there,” Lenkaitis said. “People said they had experienced budget cuts and that this was a super great help for them. I think the impact of COVID has led to people needing to seek help elsewhere.”

The Hawkeye Area Community Action Program, a food bank in Cedar Rapids, is the only provider for food right now, Lenkaitis said. To reduce the spread of the virus, the food pantry isn’t accepting donations from individuals, Lenkaitis said.

RELATED: West Side Food Pantry celebrates one-year anniversary to combat food insecurity

While the number of clients at the food pantry has increased, volunteers are still able to serve more people, especially with the help of the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program, volunteer Greta Larget said.

“I know we are giving out huge amounts of food and it’s really exciting,” Larget said. “I also know we can always take more people, and we can always help more people.”

At the start of the pandemic, there was a decrease in retail donations to the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program food bank, Assistant Director Angie Albright said. Because the food bank needed to provide more food to pantries, Albright said they relied more on their own money.

In a regular month, the program distributes about 750,000 pounds of food, Albright said. Since March, she said it’s distributed more than 1 million pounds per month. The UI Food Pantry ordered more than 5,000 pounds of food from the program in May, compared to less than 900 pounds in February, Albright said.

Although the program has distributed more food and helped more people, it has received more money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Bezos Family Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Albright said. She said she isn’t worried about running out of money.

RELATED: UI outlines further budget cuts, president’s salary proposed to be cut in half

“We have a very steady stream of food, and we are not at risk of running out by any means,” Hawkeye Area Community Action Program Food Reservoir Assistant Director Angie Albright said. “We provide everything from canned goods to fresh produce, a consistent supply of dairy products and frozen meat.”

Lenkaitis encourages people to continue to use this service, especially because they are receiving more food. She said the service is free to all UI faculty, staff, and students.

“I think with the pandemic a lot of people were either furloughed or they don’t have the option to work right now, so people are in a financial struggle,” Larget said. “I feel like people are trying to look for ways that they can save on money, and the food pantry is a really amazing organization because that’s what it’s meant to do.”