On the Table

Imagine five-hundred humpback whales. Twelve max-weight 18-wheelers. These amount to one million pounds–or the milestone reached by Iowa City’s Table to Table, a charitable organization that rescues food to support local service agencies that assist the hungry, homeless and at-risk. And for the first time in its 15-year history, Table to Table rescued more than one million pounds of food in one fiscal year.

Bob Andrlik, Table to Table director, said that while the amount per year has grown throughout his 10 years with the nonprofit, this year’s record take of 1,030,886 pounds was an incredible achievement.

“To put it in perspective, we did about 150,000 to 180,000 pounds [in 2001]” he said. “It’s grown that much over that time. It’s a building block kind of thing. You don’t just jump in and rescue that much at once.”

Founded in 1996, Table to Table is a “food rescue” organization that collects quality food from local grocers, restaurants, bakeries, farmers’ markets and other vendors to provide for recipient agencies such as Four Oaks.

“It is often hard to believe sometimes how much good and healthy food they are able to save and provide those organizations in need,” said Dusti Dalton of the Iowa City Four Oaks office. “Being a non-profit can be difficult when it comes to having the money in the budget needed to provide everything for the clients and families we serve.”

With budget cuts across the state and the nation in recession, Andrik said food pantry needs are only increasing.

“They are seeing cuts in their funding streams as governments tighten their belts,” Andrlik said. “It has a real impact on those agencies that are that front line social service safety net. We want to make sure we’re supporting those agencies.”

After the floods in 2008, there was a spike in the number of people seeking out food programs and crisis centers. Andrlik said it’s the abrupt and unpredictable changes in nature that can make people fine one day and in need the next.

“I guess that was the ‘gift’ of the flood. It helped bring back focus to where the needs are locally,” he said. “It can happen to anyone. You’ve got to be there when it happens.”

More than twenty-five food vendors in the Iowa City area provide donations to Table to Table. Andrlik said efforts began with guidance and oversight from the Johnson County Health Department, who helped determine what kinds of food to rescue and how much. Foods such as non-perishable or canned items, breads and other packaged foods are favored, as is fresh produce and foods from local farmers’ markets.

Food is usually switched out as it nears the “best use” date, Andrlik said. Though the food is being switched out for newer products, the item is still a very valuable resourceful to local pantries and service organizations.

“We’re very cognisant of how to handle the food and make sure it’s being handled correctly,” he said. “When we pass food out, we make sure to let the recipient agency know the food handling guidelines, reheating instructions and common sense things so you can mitigate any potential problems.”

Other agencies that benefit from Table to Table include the Crisis Center Food Bank, Shelter House, Domestic Violence Intervention Program and the Free Lunch Program, among others. Andrlik said it’s not only these organizations that make the process happen, but the over 100 volunteers who work with Table to Table to pick up and deliver the rescued food.

It’s that kind of volunteerism that Andrlik credits with making the one-million-pound milestone possible.

“Iowa City has that spirit of activism. It’s a great community for volunteering,” he said. “Our 110 volunteers are a powerful motivator, as well as just wanting to do the right thing. It’s so silly to discard perfectly good food.”

Dalton said she couldn’t agree more.

“The symbol of Four Oaks represents the family, the community and the agency standing together with a child to build a future as strong as the mighty oak. I think this symbol can be reflective of the Iowa City community as a whole,” she said. “We are so impressed with the level of commitment Table to Table has to provide for those in need.”

Other agencies that benefit from Table to Table’s food rescuing include the Crisis Center Food Bank, Shelter House, Domestic Violence Intervention Program and the Free Lunch Program, among others.

Andrlik said about 775,000 meals are provided by the food rescued each year.

“You hate to think that people in Iowa are hungry, but the fact remains: They are. As times get tighter, often times food is the thing that gets squeezed.”

He said that getting good, quality food to places like the Crisis Center Food Bank is just one way they can help fulfill the basic human need of daily meals.

“If you’re a person going to school and you’re hungry, you don’t do as well in school. If you’re hungry and you go to work, you won’t do as well at work. Whether it’s traditional housing, crisis intervention or food, we’re helping agencies facilitate their services with that crucial safety net for people in need.”

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