Recognizing those who help take the bite out of hunger

By By Jennifer Bissel 

Allamakee County Food Shelf volunteers as a group are represented by Julia Rotach, Cathy Jurgens and Monica Roderick at the Governor’s Volunteer Service Awards program in Cedar Falls June 6. They are pictured receiving the award from Gov. Reynolds. (submitted photo)

A group of volunteers is making a big difference for the lives of many in Allamakee County. 

Every week, several volunteers arrive at the Allamakee County Food Shelf to hand out food to those in need. Recently, that group was honored by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, receiving the Governor’s Volunteer Service Award as a group. They were recognized during a ceremony held June 6 in Cedar Falls.

Stepping up

Allamakee County Food Shelf Coordinator Julie Rotach has been donating her time for at least 15 years. She said she knew it was something she wanted to be involved with. 

“I knew that it was helping people in need, helping families, especially for children,” she said. “People that couldn’t make ends meet, maybe with retirement or income that they had.”

Every Thursday, Rotach and other volunteers gather at the food shelf, located at 1125 Main Street in Waukon. Together, they assemble boxes of food. 

Rotach said clients are allowed to utilize the food shelf in Waukon once a month. She said they try to encourage just those in Allamakee County to come to the food shelf, since most communities have their own resources. 

Each client gets a pre-made box of food items, including proteins/meat, vegetables, soups, pastas and grains. In addition to the box, each client is given a list of other items they are allowed to choose, ala carte. 

Rotach explains the food shelf receives some of their products from Northeast Iowa Food Bank in Waterloo. They also receive a lot of help locally. Rotach said local stores donate items like fresh produce, milk and canned items.

“A lot of this wouldn’t be possible without the support of the local businesses. Especially the things that they pull from the shelves that they don’t want to sell as they’re out of date but are still good so they give them to us. That helps so we don’t have to purchase the items with our donations. We can make our donations go farther.” 

In addition, Rotach said they use monetary donations to purchase items they can’t get other ways, such as canned fruit. 

Helping friends and neighbors

Rotach said the number of families they support varies throughout the year. They average about 50 families a month, with roughly 3,000 pounds of food donated per month. That serves roughly 100 people, since Rotach said many clients come from two-person households. In December of 2022, they served 56 families with over 4,000 pounds of food.

Each week, Rotach keeps detailed notes on how many people are served and how much food is donated. She reports those numbers to the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, as well as the Northeast Iowa RSVP in Decorah. Rotach stressed that confidentiality is respected at the food shelf. 

Rotach said they also try to do extra things at holiday times. She said at Easter this year, they bought turkeys from Fareway and gave people who came through a coupon to claim them. For June dairy month, they gave clients a carton of ice cream. In the past, they have given coupons for dairy products. One year at Christmas, they gave coupons to use at the meat department in various grocery stores in the county. 

About the volunteers

Rotach estimates there are 15 volunteers who consistently donate their time. The bulk of those hours come on Thursday mornings. Volunteers arrive early to start sorting the week’s items, putting food on shelves or filling the pre-made boxes. 

From 9 a.m. to noon every Thursday, people who utilize the food shelf pull in front of the building. The volunteers bring a checklist of available items to each car. A person can select the items they want to get that week ala carte. The pre-made box and other items are then delivered to each vehicle by the volunteers. 

Rotach explained this method of delivery began with the COVID-19 pandemic and has been successful.

“We started with the drive up method with COVID because before they had to come in and then we had a whole bunch of people standing around waiting and we felt very uncomfortable about that for them and for us so we started making boxes,” she explained. 

In order to receive the governor’s award, the volunteers had to be nominated. They were all invited to attend the recognition ceremony in Cedar Falls and could order a certificate and pin. 

Rotach said it was an easy decision to nominate the group.

“As the coordinator, I don’t think they get enough thank yous,” she said. “They’re very generous of their time. I appreciate that. They’re here every week.”

Donations accepted

In the summer, Rotach said the consumers love when fresh produce is available. “The clients get really excited to get fresh, garden produce. We’ll set up a table outside and they can take as much as they want. We just have to weigh it so we can report it,” she said, noting anyone who would like to donate their produce can drop it off between 8-9 a.m. Thursday mornings. 

Beside fresh produce, the food shelf will take most anything except paper products and personal care items. Anyone wishing to donate can drop off at the food shelf Thursday mornings or contact Rotach to set up a time. She said cash donations are also a big help, as for every dollar they spend, they get roughly $10 in food items. All purchases are done locally so that money stays in the community. To volunteer your time or make a donation, contact Rotach at 563-568-3754.

Submit A Comment

Fill out the form to submit a comment. All comments require approval by our staff before it is displayed on the website.

Notify of
0 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments