CommUnity’s Project Holiday helps families in need enjoy a holiday meal

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Preparing for Project Holiday meal distribution at CommUnity, Dec. 16, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

The name of the nonprofit changed earlier this year, but its mission didn’t.

CommUnity Crisis Services and Foodbank, formerly the Crisis Center of Johnson County, still offers crisis counseling, assists families struggling to pay rent and utility bills, helps individuals starting new jobs with basic necessities (such as buying boots and uniforms) and runs a food bank that serves approximately 1,000 families every week. And for the past 32 years, it’s also made sure that families in need could enjoy a holiday meal in their homes with Project Holiday.

Families receive a entree and all the fixings needed to have a traditional holiday meal.

“Clients can choose from a meat option — that could be a whole turkey, a turkey breast, a boneless ham or a whole chicken — or if they are vegetarian, they could choose tofurkey,” said Desiree Dahl, communications coordinator for CommUnity. “They can also choose all of the sides they would want for their meal.”

Last year, Project Holiday provided meals to more than 1,700 families. Distribution of the meals started on Monday and continues through Saturday.

The program is supported by MidWest One Bank sponsorship, and Penske Truck Rental provides refrigerated trucks to help keep the entrees cold. But CommUnity also relies on donations from the community.

“Just $25 covers the cost of a complete meal for one family,” Dahl said.

Anyone interesting in contributing can mail a check to CommUnity — 1121 S Gilbert Ct, Iowa City, IA 52240 — or online through the nonprofit’s site. Donations for Project Holiday will be accepted through the end of the year.

The community service organization 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. They started working to change that, and with the help of other locals, the Crisis Center of Johnson County opened its doors in 1970.

In response to community concerns over food insecurity, the Crisis Center opened its food bank in 1978. The nonprofit started Project Holiday 1987.

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