Leadership participants look at food insecurity in Wapello County

Food insecurity is a major issue in Wapello County.

With 58% of students in the Cardinal School District and 61% of students in the Ottumwa School District on free or reduced lunches, many families just don't have the income to provide enough meals in the day for their families to be food secure.

"Some of our families are just kind of not sure where to go or maybe a little nervous to contact those different organizations and so one of the things I want to do is try to help them feel confident or provide them with the support they need to contact the groups able to give them food or point them in the right direction to buy food at a lower price," said Joel Pedersen, Ottumwa Leadership Academy participant and also superintendent of Cardinal School District. "That's one of the things I'm learning - just how to bridge that gap between my families and my school district and the organizations that can help them."

The academy participants working on this project have met with the Food Bank of Southern Iowa to see what the process of collecting and distributing food is like, what works and what does not.

"I think there's a big misunderstanding of what the food bank does, so the food bank takes in food and donations and then it actually sends them out at a discounted price to the food pantries and so it's at the food pantries where the connection between people and food happens," said Marie Zoromski, Ottumwa Leadership Academy participant and also Community Impact Associate at the United Way of Wapello County. "So we look at them, we look at what the food bank has to offer, who the food bank is serving, are the people they're serving actually getting the food they need and then how do we improve that process."

Each of the community projects will presented at the academy's graduation in June.