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Food Bank for the Heartland collaborates with rural Nebraska pantry to fight summer hunger
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Food Bank for the Heartland collaborates with rural Nebraska pantry to fight summer hunger

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Volunteers load food into a car outside the West Holt Health Ministries (Atkinson-Stuart) food pantry, which distributed 180 boxes to clients on a recent Wednesday.

Robert Storjohann had cattle to check. He also wanted to make sure a windmill on his property was providing water to his herd.

First, however, his day’s agenda on a recent Wednesday included a stop at the West Holt Health Ministries food pantry — a network partner of Food Bank for the Heartland — in nearby Atkinson, Nebraska.

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Food Bank for the Heartland’s Jake Kampschneider and Pantry Volunteer Director, Linda Nekuda prepare for the day’s distribution.

Storjohann, who farms with his wife, Lucille, north of O’Neill, said he especially appreciates the produce he received during his stop. “The lettuce is better than you can buy in a store.”

All the food items he receives at the food pantry — including canned goods, meat, milk and cereal — are appreciated and needed. “Money is tight," he said. "With COVID, prices went up, especially gas prices. This helps us make ends meet.”

Storjohann is a regular visitor to the Atkinson-Stuart food pantry, held twice each month in a former dentist’s office. He was already in line when it opened at 10 a.m.

On that Wednesday, the food items clients received included a produce box containing such items as oranges, zucchini and pears; a community box containing peanut butter, pancake mix and macaroni and cheese; a bag of sweet corn; a gallon of milk and a meat box containing such items as pepperoni, beef chili and spaghetti sauce. A portion of these food items was provided locally.

Volunteers (Storjohann also volunteers at the Atkinson-Stuart pantry) organized and distributed the food boxes. They also helped carry the boxes to clients’ vehicles. Three hours after opening, 180 families had received food. Just two boxes of produce and two gallons of milk remained, said Linda Nekuda, volunteer director.

Nekuda said it is not unusual for people to arrive several hours before the pantry opens. “People are in need,” she said. “We see this many (people) at every food pantry.”

They’re also grateful, she added.

“People are appreciative. They tell me, ‘Thank you. This really helps.’”

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Since March 15, 2020, the Food Bank has distributed more than 38 million meals in Nebraska and western Iowa — an 89% increase over the average of the previous four years.

Food insecurity doesn’t discriminate when it comes to age, gender or where people live, said Jake Kampschneider, Food Bank for the Heartland community and partner support representative. Since March 15, 2020, the Food Bank has distributed more than 38 million meals in Nebraska and western Iowa — an 89% increase over the average of the previous four years.

“We’re encouraged by the signs of relief we see and hope to return to a new normal,” he said. “However, the impact of COVID-19 will linger beyond the pandemic. More seniors, families and children face food insecurity — and for the first time for many.”

In northeast Nebraska alone, Kampschneider said, the Food Bank supports 24 pantries and coordinates eight mobile distributions and 30 backpack programs, which are partnerships with local schools to provide weekend meals for hungry children.

Donations of money, time and food are critical, especially in times of greater need, said Travis Carlson, director of marketing and communications at Food Bank for the Heartland. “Financial donations are the easiest way to make the biggest impact. Volunteers also play a critical role in our operations, and food donations are always welcome.”

All this is not lost on Storjohann. “I am grateful for the Food Bank and amazed at the generosity of people. It’s mind-boggling as to how many people receive help.”

Storjohann had just one more request: “We’re dry around here. Some rain would be nice.”

To learn more about the Food Bank for the Heartland and its programs, go to www.foodbankheartland.org.

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