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With a lofty goal of ending hunger in the region, River Bend Foodbank has opened a food pantry at Davenport's NorthPark Mall to serve more families in need.

Since its soft opening June 25, the pantry has served nearly 100 families a day. Dana Myrick, pantry coordinator, expects that once awareness grows that will increase to more than 250 families — matching what River Bend averages at its pantry at SouthPark Mall, Moline. 

"We want to make this comfortable for our guests," Diane Erickson, the foodbank's programs director, said during the pantry's unveiling Tuesday.

"This is set up like a grocery store as much as possible," she said. Guests use a shopping cart to move through the pantry and select food items their family eats. "Our goal is always to serve our guests with dignity and value." 

The new pantry replaces monthly food distributions at the foodbank's warehouse in west Davenport, which had outgrown the facility. 

At the last distribution, held in November, a record 1,200 families showed up to get food. Serving that many, had become difficult logistically, Erickson said. The mall site is convenient for guests and has available parking. 

River Bend President and CEO Mike Miller said the success of the SouthPark pantry led River Bend to look for a similar Scott County site. Five months ago when the SouthPark pantry opened, he said the  "main motivation" was to distribute the surplus food being received from The Emergency Food Assistance Program, or TEFAP, a federal trade mitigation package aimed at helping farmers hurt by the trade dispute and new tariffs.

Miller also announced the latest findings from Feeding America's Map the Meal Gap data, which shows 114,480 people still are food insecure across the 23 counties in eastern Iowa and western Illinois served by River Bend. In Scott County alone, 20,540 people, including 6,720 children, are missing meals. 

But the agency is narrowing the gap and on its way to meeting its goal, set in 2015, of tripling meal distribution by 2025. 

For fiscal 2019, Miller said River Bend distributed a record number of 17,055,093 meals, an increase of 24% over last year's 13.9 million meals and is 2.3 times the meal distribution of 2015.

But with a meal gap of 19,535,900 meals across the region, he said the unmet need is 2.48 million meals. 

"We are closer to putting an end to hunger in eastern Iowa than ever before," Miller said. "The new food pantries in NorthPark and SouthPark will help us close the gap in Scott and Rock Island counties just as we seek to do in each of the communities we serve." 

Erickson said the foodbank's pantries are not meant to compete with the area partners who operate 300 other pantries across the region.

"Most community pantries only serve guests one time a month," she added. "We're thankful they do that but a lot of our families need more than that. They are finding three to five days (worth of food) is not going to work for them."

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