Instead of a literal groundbreaking, leaders and supporters of River Bend Food Bank on Tuesday turned over raw corn kernels to mark the planned expansion of its facility at 4010 Kimmel Drive in west Davenport.

Supporters of River Bend Food Bank join president/CEO Mike Miller in turning over corn kernels Tuesday morning, to mark groundbreaking for an expansion of the Food Bank’s 60,000-square-foot warehouse.

This much-needed additional space will drive growth for the organization and increase capacity to end hunger in its 23-county service area. This significant expansion, which includes plans for an additional 25,000 square feet and renovate existing spaces, begins this year during the Food Bank’s 40th anniversary.

On Feb. 1, 1982, the Food Bank distributed its first food products from its old facility in Moline, which isn’t there anymore. That first year, the Food Bank distributed 158,300 meals through 70 partner agencies. Today, over 415,000 meals are distributed each week with the help of over 300 partners across five counties in Iowa and 18 counties in Illinois.

“In 2015, River Bend Food Bank set a goal of tripling food distribution by 2025,” said Mike Miller, president/CEO of River Bend. “Because of tremendous support from the community, we achieved that goal five years early, growing from 7.3 to over 22 million meals distributed annually.

“But this unprecedented growth has our facility bursting at the seams,” he said. “The Expanding to End Hunger campaign will provide enough capacity to feed every person who does not have enough food in the communities we serve.”

Food Bank president/CEO Mike Miller talks about the “Expanding to End Hunger” campaign Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“Keep in mind, this country throws away one-third of the food we produce, which would be enough to feed everyone,” Miller said Tuesday. “The only thing it would take to end hunger in our community would be to commit to never throwing away food that could still be eaten by someone in need.”

Located in a 60,000-square-foot warehouse near the Mississippi River, River Bend Food Bank has distributed food through pantries in churches, schools, senior living complexes, and community action organizations since 1982.

Nate Clark, president of the John Deere Foundation and campaign co-chair, noted that 40 years ago, Deere helped break ground for what would become River Bend, in the midst of the Midwest farm crisis.

Nate Clark, president of the John Deere Foundation, announced the company’s commitment of $1 million for the project.

“At that desperate time for so many, leaders at John Deere helped secure the space and staff needed to start River Bend Food Bank,” Clark said Tuesday. “We have seen first-hand the enormous and life-changing impact that the Food Bank has made over the last 40 years. If the last two years of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic have proven anything, the Food Bank has more work to do, and it’s ready to break new ground.”

Deere employees and the Deere Foundation have committed $1 million to the expansion project, he said.

“While ending hunger is a bold goal in and of itself, we see the expansion of the Food Bank as providing something equally audacious,” Clark added. “It helps affirm that we as a community, we as a region share the unwavering belief that every person must have the access to food, the access to nutrition that is critical to human dignity.”

Lifting a burden for all in need

Project NOW, based in Rock Island, has been a partner agency with the Food Bank since the beginning and its executive director, Rev. Dwight D. Ford, spoke of the expansion’s importance.

“Your movement has been one that has brought the community together,” he said. “We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business. We are each other’s magnitude and bond. So we find security in the fact that we plant together, we harvest together, we work together and we reap the benefits together.”

Rev. Dwight Ford, executive director of Project NOW, speaks about River Bend’s importance to the community (photo by Jonathan Turner).

This work reminds us of how we want to be as a community, he said.

“Hunger is an unwelcome intruder in our region’s house, and it must be evicted,” Ford said. “That’s why I love this organization’s bold commitment to end hunger. Most people would be intimidated to say such, but I love the sense of eagerness to get after it, to make sure we rid the landscape of the things that steal and rob families and individuals of their humanity.”

The Food Bank reminds us no matter what area we work in, that they will all be connected to food security, he noted.

“There’s nothing that we do in the broader community that the Food Bank won’t have some sense of commitment toward,” Ford said of this commitment to hope.

“Those who face such challenges have an abiding friend in the Food Bank in both advocacy and action,” he said. “Our future is bright because their expansion of facilities, capacities and partnerships with Project NOW and others, all working to end the causes of food insecurity and poverty.”

Rev. Dwight Ford of Project NOW said his agency has benefitted from the Food Bank since it began in 1982 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

A veteran of the U.S. Marines, he described the Navy Seals’ “hell week,” when they carry a 300-pound raft above their head everywhere. “Truth be told, when you see other photos, that raft they carry is the thing that keeps them afloat,” Ford said.

“I’d like to commend on behalf of the community, this great organization, for the weight that they always carry,” he said of River Bend. “It has kept our community afloat. Some people like to say that poverty is a mindset and I disagree, because this organization would know first-hand that poverty and lack of food security shows up in the groans of children, who don’t have enough to eat when they go to bed.”

“You carry the weight in advocacy; you carry the weight in action,” Ford said. “We come together to celebrate this moment.”

State of Iowa support

Iowa Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, leader of the Feeding Iowans Task Force, which included food banks, praised River Bend and its longevity.

“Of those 40 years, maybe no year was more challenging than 2020,” he said, noting how vital River Bend and other food banks are to the areas they serve.

Iowa Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg headed the Feeding Iowans Task Force (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“We were able to provide 38.4 million meals to food banks and food pantries all across the state,” Gregg said of the state task force. “Of course, the pandemic wasn’t the only challenge we faced in 2020. The derecho inflicted tremendous damage all across the state, in areas the River Bend Food Bank served, and wiped out the food supply for many vulnerable Iowans.”

Through the Feedings Iowans Task Force, the state allocated over $14 million to hunger-related programs, he said. About $500,000 of that went to River Bend, to empower them to buy more food and a gigantic new cooler.

“We see the difference that River Bend has made and the good they can do with those funds,” Gregg said. “I’m very excited to learn of River Bend’s goal of expansion here and wish you all the best in that.”

Recalling hunger at age 4

Amy Jones, director of philanthropy of Rock Island-based Royal Neighbors of America and co-chair of the capital campaign, shared a personal memory.

“Years ago, as a child, I was the recipient of food from a food bank in my community,” she said of when she was about 4, standing in line outside a church for food, holding her mom’s hand.

Amy Jones of Royal Neighbors of America is a campaign co-chair (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“That’s a pretty strong memory for a 4-year-old, and I remember getting peanut butter,” Jones said. “I’m 42 years old and the Food Bank is 40 years old today, so I’m a physical example of what it means, of 40 years of progress, to go from a family that needed food, to a very successful and thriving family.”

“I’m grateful that when we needed it, we had neighbors, community leaders and a business community that understood the investment we need to make in each other,” she said. “That investment can change lives immediately and for the future, for many years to come.”

Working best by working together

Davenport Mike Matson said, “Together we can end hunger,” quoting the Food Bank mission. “On behalf of the citizens of Davenport, on behalf of this community, I just thank you Mr. Miller so much, for the work that River Bend Food Bank does, and thank all of you for coming together – partnerships, collaboration and teamwork are the key to success.

Davenport Mayor Mike Matson praised he partnerships River Bend has created (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“This is the example of what we do in this community to bring people together,” Matson said.

Miller noted for every dollar donated to River Bend, five meals can be provided to those need — so $20 translates to 100 meals.

According to River Bend, in its service area:

  • 115,750 people experience food insecurity, including 35,060 children.
  • In 2020, food insecurity increased by over 50 percent.
  • During the school year, every week the Food Bank provides 3,000 backpacks with weekend meals for students.
  • One in five children and 1 in 10 adults are missing meals, not by choice.
  • Every day, people experiencing hunger make tough choices between most basic needs, including having to choose between paying for rent/mortgage, medical care or gas and paying for food.

The increased capacity at River Bend will allow the Food Bank to distribute 50% more meals (a projected 35 million meals from the fiscal year 2021 total of 23 million) to fulfill the unmet needs of people experiencing hunger.

The Food Bank is celebrating its 40th birthday, after opening Feb. 1, 1982 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Work will start this summer, with an expected completion date of late summer 2023. During that time, the Food Bank will actively seek the community’s support through financial donations of any size to complete this crucial project.

For more information, visit the Food Bank website.