CommUnity’s annual fundraising banquet for its food bank goes virtual

CommUnity’s food bank, Nov. 2020. Jason Smith/Little Village

The COVID-19 pandemic strained the resources of food banks across Iowa, revealing the high level of food insecurity in the state. It has also changed how CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank will hold its annual Hunger Banquet.

The banquet, which is a major source of funding for the Iowa City-based nonprofit’s food bank each year, will be virtual instead in-person in order to help prevent possible spread of COVID-19. Instead of participants coming to the banquet, it will come to them.

“We’ve developed this virtual event to help educate the community on food insecurity in Johnson County, and to raise awareness and support for the Food Bank,” Sarah Nelson, executive director of CommUnity, said in a written statement. “Attendees will learn about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected food insecurity in Johnson County and beyond through an engaging virtual presentation featuring CommUnity clients and volunteers. And, like the in-person version of the Hunger Banquet, participants will be randomly assigned a financial demographic based on real income levels in Johnson County to determine the value of the meal that they receive.”

Banquet participants will receive “virtual gift cards of varying amounts that can be used to purchase a meal from a restaurant or delivery service of your choosing,” according to the nonprofit’s site. “Some participants will be able to purchase an upscale dinner, some will be able to purchase a fast food meal, and those representing the 22,500 of our neighbors going to bed hungry will receive no meal at all.”

The virtual banquet will be held on Friday, June 11. The evening’s program will begin at 6:30 p.m., and will be proceeded by a “virtual social hour” that starts at 5:30 p.m.

Tickets are available online for $50.

CommUnity was founded as the Crisis Center of Johnson County in 1970. It grew out of the efforts of two University of Iowa freshmen, Kathy Szymoniak Keeley and Carolyn Hock, whose roommate attempted suicide in 1969. They got medical help for the roommate, but realized there were no crisis counseling services available in the area. The two started working to change that, and with the help of other members of the community, founded the Crisis Center.

In response to community concerns over food insecurity, the Crisis Center opened its food bank in 1978. Last year, CommUnity — the nonprofit adopted its new name in 2019 — opened a much larger food bank facility in Pepperwood Plaza (1045 Highway 6 East).

The CommUnity food bank at Pepperwood Plaza. Photo courtesy of CommUnity

Working in conjunction with the Coralville Community Food Pantry and the North Liberty Community Pantry, CommUnity’s food bank also offers delivery of pre-packed bags of food for those who cannot come to its 11,000 sq. ft. facility to select items from its shelves. Requests for food deliveries can be made online or by calling 319-519-6165, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Anyone who wants to support the food bank with a monetary contribution, but is unable to attend the June 11 fundraiser, can do so through CommUnity’s site. A $25 donation will cover the cost of 125 pounds of food for the food bank, and a donation of $2,500 will stock the food bank for a week.

CommUnity reports that its food bank is currently serving 900 household a week.

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