(Photo by Gabe Licht)
For individuals on fixed incomes and families with growing bills, a little bit of help can go a long way.
That's how Mary, who requested anonymity, feels about the meat she receives every other month from Clay County Food for Life, through the Spencer office of Upper Des Moines Opportunity.
"It means a lot, especially with food prices going up and living expenses going up," Mary said. "It really supplements my fixed income, which hasn't increased in two years."
CCFFL wants to make sure that resources remain for people like Mary. Following a highly successful fundraising campaign in 2008, the local organization, which connects meat donations with eligible parties, has been able to forgo such efforts the past few years.
"We only ask for assistance when we need it," CCFFL Secretary-Treasurer Gary Holck said. "That time has come as our current funds will be depleted by April 2012."
Just as CCFFL has stretched their funds -- 98.8 percent of which goes toward processing or purchasing meat -- recipients of the meat get as much out of it as possible.
Mary is proud of the fact that one package of hamburger can stretch to provide six meals and credits her upbringing with instilling that ability in her.
"That's the way I was raised," Mary said. "It always amazed us when we didn't think we had anything and my mom would make a meal."
Sometimes eggs are substituted for meat, but Mary can't imagine going without the CCFFL food. When she receives meat every other month, UDMO also provides additional extras that are available to help round out full meals.
"I would definitely miss it," she said. "It would mean a lot of meatless meals. I love all kinds of meat. When my husband was alive, it was meat, potatoes and gravy all the time, not casseroles like I eat now."
"Any nutritionist will tell you the importance of protein and this helps provide that," UDMO Director Anita Jorgensen said.
That nutrition is necessary to help raise a young family.
"Oh my gosh, yes, we are so grateful for the Food for Life meat program for our growing family," a mom with two children recently told Jorgensen. "With the price of food going up, it makes it possible for me to stretch our paycheck to purchase other necessities at the grocery store. I'm so thankful UDMO has this meat available for us."
CCFFL began distributing meat through UDMO in 1983 and Holck has been involved since 1985. He has seen the number of farmers making donations peak at 45 in the '90s and drop to the current four or five donors.
"It was easier back then because there was a locker in Spencer that was licensed," Holck said.
Now, the nearest licensed locker is in Paullina, where the meat is inspected before butcher and after processing. CCFFL takes advantage of donations from outside of the county, as they are able to purchase Food for Life meat at 55 cents per pound. To encourage area farmers to take their animals to that locker, CCFFL has begun paying mileage.
Processing costs have also grown throughout the years, from $2,560 to process just shy of 4,000 pounds of meat to $5,680 to process 7,230 pounds of meat last year.
"They have a tremendous cost and I don't think they're getting rich on it," Holck said of the processors, "but it has been more of a cost for us."
Because CCFFL has had additional funds available, the income guidelines were changed from 125 percent of the poverty level to 150 percent.
"We may have to go back to that 125 percent figure, depending on what our fundraising is," Holck said. "That's a decision we'll have to make when we meet in January. It's something that has been working well, but we'll have to see where we are on funds."
Not only are more people utilizing the program, Jorgensen said, but they are using it more consistently.
"Many times, we'd see folks come in the winter months when bills were higher and use it then, but not in the summer," Jorgensen said. "Or, they'd use it in the summer, when their kids were home from school, but not other times of the year. In the last few years, people have been consistently coming in every other month."
Holck and his fellow board members want to make sure those in need have access to food, regardless of the season, which can only continue with further community support.
"I think, in the past we've been very fortunate with the way people have supported our program," Holck said. "We really appreciate it. We are in need again. Whatever people can do would be greatly appreciated."
* The CCFFL board will meet to discuss the upcoming year at 3 p.m. Jan. 4, in the UDMO office located at 407 E. Third St.