Iron Ridge Church and many volunteers help facilitate local food distribution during pandemic through Farmers to Families effort

A higher calling helping others ... An aerial view of the parking lot of Iron Ridge Church in Waukon shows rows of vehicles lined up to receive food through the Farmers to Families program designed to help those in need. The church began the local distribution effort in May of 2020 after the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program was launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and plans to continue to facilitate the program as long as it is available. Submitted photo.

Efforts of many in all kinds of weather ... The local food distribution efforts at Iron Ridge Church in Waukon through the nationwide Farmers to Families program benefited from the assistance of many in helping feed those in need. A variety of volunteers have helped out with the distribution effort in a variety of weather, as evidenced above, providing a variety of food, as evidenced in the photo below, to those who may need it . Submitted photo.

by Julie Berg-Raymond

Since May of 2020, Iron Ridge Church in Waukon has been part of a nationwide effort to get food to people in need, in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The church, along with food banks and other non-profit organizations throughout the country, has been receiving and distributing “Farmers to Families” food boxes - pre-approved boxes of fresh produce, dairy and meat products purchased by the USDA under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and as part of the $19 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program launched in April of 2020. Additional funding for the program was included in the COVID-19 relief package as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act passed December 21, 2020.

Iron Ridge Pastor Bryan Mincks has been organizing the local effort. “We knew a pastor named Rusty Gunn in Oklahoma from a church called Church That Matters; he was facilitating trucks and asked if we wanted to start receiving them,” Mincks says. “There were some requirements - specifically, that we could physically receive the truck somewhere and that we had the means to unload it with a skid loader, which we just happened to have.”

Since it has been such a success in the area, Iron Ridge is contacted a couple times each month to lock in more trucks. “We have done over 20 trucks of food ourselves,” Mincks says. “We have unloaded trucks in the heat, the snow and the freezing rain - all with the help of volunteers.”

Most volunteers are from the Iron Ridge congregation, but a number of local community members have joined the effort, as well – “people who came to get food and then wanted to be a part of it and help others,” Mincks says. “We have people at the church that will help load into peoples’ vehicles.”

Mincks says they have seen people from all over the region - including as far away as La Crosse, WI. “We had people deliver a pallet or more worth of food to Cedar Rapids after the huge storm that hit. The Waukon and Decorah police and the sheriffs from both locations have picked up pallets of food and then personally distributed it to people in need in their respective areas,” he says. “The food shelters from multiple towns in northeast Iowa have taken pallets of food to give away; and local nursing homes, hospitals and businesses have all benefited from the food at one point or another.”

The purchase and distribution of food has been rolled out in five rounds; in the current - fifth - round of purchases, USDA has purchased up to $1.5 billion worth of food for delivery through the end of April. Mincks says Iron Ridge will keep receiving and distributing food as long as the government keeps renewing the contract with Farmers to Families. “We know we will be doing it as far as the month of April at least,” he says.

“There are more people in need in this area than we know; and I have seen them drive up in their cars to get a little help in the form of food,” Mincks says. “It’s a blessing, as pastor of Iron Ridge Church, to watch the people who attend, step up and help time and time again. I treat it as no small thing, but as a huge opportunity to show love in these difficult times.”

Iron Ridge Church held its first service in August of 2004 in the auditorium of Waukon High School. As the church grew, it bought the Main Feature Theater in downtown Waukon, and the building was used Sundays for the church service. In August 2016 the congregation moved into its new church building at 512 Ninth Street SW in Waukon. The church is currently in the process of expanding at its Ninth Street SW location.