River Bend Foodbank relocated from downtown Moline in 2014, partly because the property was needed for the new Element Hotel and train station, and partly because the Foodbank needed more space. We had no preference for Illinois or Iowa. We just needed enough space to support our growing operation.
It took four years to find the right building, a 60,000-square-foot facility just across the Interstate-280 bridge in west Davenport.
By all measures, the move has been an overwhelming success. Thanks to tremendous support from both the community and our network of 300 partner agencies, River Bend Foodbank has doubled the number of meals we distribute to hungry children, families and seniors in just four years, from 7.4 million meals in 2014 to more than 15 million meals distributed last year.
However, there was an unexpected downside. The six-mile move across the Mississippi River costs River Bend Foodbank $25,000 each year, because the State of Iowa does not exempt food banks from paying sales taxes.
Do you think it is right for $25,000 that people contribute to end hunger in eastern Iowa and western Illinois must instead be paid to the State of Iowa? I do not. That is why I ask for your support of SF205 and HF370 in the Iowa Legislature.
Iowa has an interesting way of determining which organizations are exempt and which are not, and food banks were not at the table when that list was made. The HACAP Food Reservoir in Cedar Rapids is exempt, because it is part of a Community Action Program, and those made the list. Food Bank of the Heartland, which serves western Iowa is exempt, because it is based in Nebraska. But since we moved one mile across the Mississippi River, River Bend Foodbank is not.
One strategy other nonprofit organizations have used in this situation is to hire lobbyists to help them get a sales tax exemption. This also feels wrong to me, using donated funds to pay a lobbyist instead of using them to feed hungry people.
Another strategy is to ask for your help. This strategy costs nothing except for a few brief minutes of your time. Would you please reach out to your Iowa state senators and representatives? What we have been told is that to get these bills out of committee, legislators need to know that people care about them. A good hundred calls to each of them ought to get their attention.
Every dollar contributed to River Bend Foodbank provides five meals for those in need – except for the $25,000 we pay the State of Iowa. That money would instead provide 125,000 meals every year to hungry people.
Those people need our help. One in eight people in our community does not have enough food, and sadly, that includes one in five children. Their limited access to a sufficient supply of healthy food inhibits their ability to function – to work, to learn, to be active, and to be healthy.
Meanwhile, we are throwing away enough food to feed all of them. Twenty percent of what is disposed of in Iowa landfills is food, where it hurts the environment, and one third of that is still in its original packaging. The only thing it would take to end hunger in our community would be for everyone to commit to never throwing away food that could still be eaten by someone in need.
I am usually asking for your help with food, funds, or time. Today, you can help immensely by making two phone calls. Please call and ask your senator to support SF205 and your representative HF370, exempting Iowa food banks from having to pay sales tax.
Your contributions to River Bend Foodbank should be going to provide food for hungry people, not to lobbyists, politicians or the State of Iowa.