Once again this year, the Crisis Center of Johnson County’s Project Holiday is helping those in need to enjoy an important part of the season: a special meal with their loved ones.
“This is our 30th year for Project Holiday,” said Sara Sedlacek, the Crisis Center’s communications and development director. “This year, 5,414 individuals have pre-registered for meals.” That’s an increase from last year, when 5,000 individuals received a meal through Project Holiday.
The annual project is an extension the Crisis Center’s regular food bank. Between Dec. 18 and 22, clients who have registered for Project Holiday will be able to pick up all the elements of a traditional holiday meal, including a main dish — this year’s options are a whole turkey, a turkey breast, a whole chicken, ham or a vegetarian item — two sides dishes and a starch.
Clients pick their main dish in advance, but for the rest, they pick out what they want from the grocery store-style set-up of the Crisis Center’s food bank. The food bank is just one of the services the Crisis Center provides for Johnson County residents in need.
This year, Project Holiday is going mobile for the first time.
“We have seven mobile pantries, as part of our food bank program,” Carly Matthew, Crisis Center communications coordinator, explained. “Five in Iowa City, one in Coralville and one in Oxford.”
The mobile pantries are trucks that bring the food bank to locations closer to people unable to come to the Crisis Center on S Gilbert Court. This year, they’ll also bring Project Holiday to more than 150 of the center’s clients.
The center is currently fundraising to cover the expenses associated with the holiday meals.
“We estimate the cost of a meal to be about $25,” Sedlacek said. “And this year, because it is our 30th year, we’re hoping to raise $30,000. We’re about half-way there, and we’re hoping to hit that $30,000 before the end of the year.”
People interested in helping can find information on the center’s website, or pick up one of the fundraising tags with information on how to donate that have been distributed around town.
“You can find them at churches, and a lot of downtown businesses,” Sedlacek said. “And at every MidWestOne Bank location in Johnson County.”
For the second consecutive year, MidWestOne Bank is Project Holiday’s premier sponsor. The bank not only provides financial support, but MidWestOne employees also volunteer their time to work on the project.
“There’s nothing more important than making sure that people have food to eat,” Amy Hospodarsky, the community relations manager for MidWestOne, told Little Village. “But even further, we love that Project Holiday gives the clients of the Crisis Center the opportunity to create their own traditions. When you think about the holidays, you think about sharing a meal together. We love that Project Holiday is not just giving food, it’s giving the opportunity to give have that experience with your family and the people you love.”
One of the families Project Holiday is giving that opportunity to is a recent arrival from Fort Dodge. Their youngest child is being treated in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. The family moved to Iowa City to be near their daughter, who has been in the NICU since 2016, Sedlacek explained.
“Their daughter does get to go home at Christmas,” Sedlacek said. “But when the client was in here earlier this week, she said that without Project Holiday, they’d all be eating pizza for Christmas dinner, because moving here and being at the NICU every day has been such a disruption in the family’s life.”
“This is allowing them to continue their family traditions, and have some stability in the home for their other two kids.”