Ames organizations work to battle food, housing insecurity


Courtesy of the S.H.O.P.'s Facebook

Stocked with food, the S.H.O.P.’s pantry offers food for students in need.

Eleanor Chalstrom

Community action groups in the Ames area work to combat the effects of food and housing insecurity after nearly two years of pandemic living.

Food and housing insecurity have gained national attention since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. With widespread company layoffs, free lunch programs at public schools and supply chain issues, many individuals have found themselves struggling to obtain adequate nutrition.

The Center on Budget and Privacy Priorities reported that since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, about 9 percent of adults reported frequently lacking enough money to buy proper meals.

Feeding America reported that one in 11 Iowans experience hunger, and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness reported that 2,647 people make up the homeless population in Iowa.

The COVID-19 Relief program and community action services have assisted many Americans who are food insecure, housing insecure or both. However, many individuals find it challenging to take advantage of community resources and know where to start when they find themselves in these compromising situations.

The Ames community and Iowa State University offer a few services to aid individuals and combat the effects of food and housing insecurity.

Students Helping Our Peers (SHOP) is a student organization that maintains a food pantry on campus and advocates for anti-hunger initiatives. After partnering with Student Wellness at the height of the pandemic, SHOP moved into Beyer hall, where they have access to refrigeration and more space for donations.

Rachel McKern is a senior studying microbiology and the current president of SHOP. She said that with her experiences operating a food pantry, she has noticed a frequent misconception surrounding food insecurity.

“People don’t really realize what the definition of food insecurity is. People think living off of ramen is food security,” said McKern. “Food security means you afford nutritious food that doesn’t just keep you alive.”

McKern said that SHOP tries to keep fresh produce and all the ingredients to a well-balanced meal in the pantry so students can access proper nutrition.

The volunteer-run pantry receives donations from businesses and individuals from the community, but McKern said monetary donations are the best way to support SHOP so they can easily order supplies for restocking.

McKern said SHOP welcomed 56 people per week on average in January 2021 and has a “no questions asked” policy for those needing groceries.

SHOP is always welcoming volunteers to assist in regulating inventory and obtaining donations. “All you have to do is count items and be friendly,” McKern said.

Visit SHOP’s website to see their open hours and volunteering information.

Located in the basement of First Christian Church in Ames is Food at First.

It is a non-profit organization that provides a free daily meal and food market for perishable and non-perishable food items.

Patty Yoder runs the show as the executive director and volunteer coordinator at the non-profit. She said that Food at First started in 2003 when a free meal was provided to those in need during Lent season. From there, more and more days of meals were added, and the pantry was set up. Now, Food at First is open every day of the year for dinner and lunch Saturday.

“Our motto is, ‘If you’re hungry, you’re welcome,’” Yoder said.

Yoder said that food insecurity can affect all kinds of people. Whether they are employed, if they are parents, if they are students, if they can afford food or not — the list goes on. She said that people are always welcome to Food at First for a nutritious meal and a restock of groceries.

Food at First gets most of its supply from donations or grocery stores that pull items off the shelves for being imperfect. Unlike some free food markets, they are able to keep an abundance of fresh produce, dairy and meat in stock due to their refrigeration system.

“There are a lot of reasons people come to Food at First, but we don’t care what they are,” Yoder said. “It’s good to experience that and just to see that this is a part of the world that is regular and normal. Do your little part to help others because they’re, you know, your neighbors.”

Food at First welcomes volunteers and donations to assist in keeping the market stocked and meals prepared. To learn more about their hours of operation and how to help, visit their website.

Food and housing insecurity often walk hand-in-hand. The Bridge Home is a non-profit centralized in Ames that assists in “bridging the gap” between homelessness and finding a permanent residence.

“At the Bridge Home, our mission is to walk alongside those who have fallen on hard times to find hope and a home,” said Tara Brown, director of operations. “We help those on the brink of or currently experiencing homelessness. We help them in every aspect that we possibly can to achieve housing stability.” 

Brown explained that the Bridge Home works on a housing first basis. The first step to receiving help from the Bridge Home is calling; Brown said that clients should always leave a message so a representative can coordinate a plan with them as soon as possible.

Clients often talk with the Bridge Home representatives on whether there is an alternative place they can stay, such as family or friends in the area, before considering spots in a shelter.

Then they continue to help clients receive transportation to shelters or spaces to stay. The Bridge Home then helps in finding permanent housing and transitioning into more stable environments.

Brown said the Bridge Home often works with landlords in Ames, other community action groups, employers and their own volunteers to support clients in their route to housing stability.

Brown said that volunteers are always embraced and often help with collecting donations, helping clients move and uplifting clients in their path to stable housing. Donations that the Bridge Home often needs are menstruation products, hand warmers for winter months, CyRide passes and hygiene products.

“We really come from a nonjudgmental place,” Brown said. “There is no typical homeless person; the stigma that many people have in their heads when they think about homelessness is so largely inaccurate. Homelessness does not discriminate, so please don’t feel as if you asking for help is any kind of judgment.”

To receive assistance from the Bridge Home, call 515-232-8075. To volunteer, donate or learn more, visit their website.