WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) -- Governor Kim Reynolds and Lt. Governor Adam Gregg visited the Northeast Iowa Food Bank late Tuesday afternoon.
The visit comes as food banks across the state have seen a rise in need for food assistance because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Reynolds established the Feeding Iowans Task Force which provides a number of programs to keep food moving from the food banks to those in need.
"We cant do it without support, not just community support but the state of Iowa has stepped up to make it possible for food to be available to people in need," said Barb Prather, the executive director of the Northeast Iowa Food Bank.
Food banks have drastically adjusted the work they do to feed an increased number of people. Prather noted that some places have seen an increase in use as much as 45%. The NE Food Bank has seen about a 20% increase.
Prather led the state officials on a tour through the facility, emphasizing how they've adjusted with the recommendations to social distance. The food pantry now operates a drive-thru system for food pickup only.
While the governor came to see the work being done by the food bank, leaders there also shared what else could be done.
"We really asked her to continue to support our process to get sales tax exemptions because it will really help us provide foods to family in the long-term," Prather said.
A bill was brought up this past legislative session regarding such an exemption but it did not pass. Prather says if a sales tax exemption passed for food banks when buying their own product, it would save them about $50,000 a year. She says statewide it would save about $200,000 between the state's food banks.
Prather also says in the future they'll need to figure out a way to continue to get the food out in a way that is functional to both social distancing and cold weather in the winter months.
The governor's visit comes a day after Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig announced the "Pack the Pantry" program, part of the Feeding Iowans Task Force and funded by money from the CARES Act.
At the food bank in Waterloo, a good portion of the support from the state has been used to purchase bulk amounts of food that volunteers break down into more consumer friendly products. The funding and support has allowed groups like the Iowa National Guard and Americorps to repack that bulk food. Governor Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Gregg both volunteered with such an effort at the food bank.
"What the Feeding Iowans Task Force has done, I think to be very creative, to really figure out how we can take advantage of the excess supply that we have, especially, when it comes to meat right now," Governor Reynolds said.
Lt. Governor Gregg, who chairs the task force, noted programs like "Pass the Pork" and "Beef Up" have helped fight food insecurity in the state.