It is with heavy hearts that we honor the life and legacy of a remarkable individual, Kenn Bowen, who dedicated himself to serving his community as a Veteran for Peace, advocate for immigrant rights, and as a food rescue volunteer with Table to Table. Alongside his beloved wife, Pat, Kenn selflessly stepped forward during a time of great volunteer need, leaving an indelible mark on our organization and the lives of those he touched.
We’re thinking of Kenn and Pat this week as we get our produce stand schedule started for the summer. Kenn & Pat volunteered at our Free Produce stands during the summer months, building community and distributing fresh produce with a smile and a kind word. This was in addition to faithfully covering their weekly route. Together, Kenn and Pat were an unstoppable duo, always willing to lend a helping hand wherever it was needed.
At a gathering of T2T volunteers last summer at Big Grove, AmeriCorps member Alyssa remembers her first encounter with Kenn, who would become a regular volunteer in the program she led: “From the moment we struck up a conversation, it was clear that Kenn had a knack for storytelling and ‘dad’ jokes. He effortlessly embodied the welcoming and inclusive nature of Table to Table, making everyone around him feel at ease.”
Each time he saw Kenn, T2T Volunteer Coordinator Jared Long would share his own weekly joke, and it became a lighthearted goal to elicit an eye roll from Kenn — a small victory that Jared cherished. Kenn’s quick wit and dry humor reminded us not to take ourselves too seriously and added a touch of levity to our work. His clever quips, travel stories, and engaging discussions on current events made him an unforgettable presence.
Kenn never held back from sharing his thoughts and opinions, providing valuable insights and feedback. His honesty and engagement in our work were qualities that we greatly respected. We knew that when Kenn expressed his views, it came from a place of genuine care and a desire to make a difference. His candidness was appreciated in the environment of open dialogue and growth T2T works to cultivate.
We mourn the loss of a dear friend, a dedicated volunteer, and a man of integrity. But let us also celebrate the profound impact he had on our community. In honor of Kenn Bowen, let us carry his spirit forward. Let us continue the vital work he began, being a true friend, advocating and lifting the voices of our most vulnerable neighbors, and bringing comfort to those in need. May we approach our tasks with the same dedication, passion, and humor. His legacy of compassion and service lives on in our hearts and in the continued efforts of Table to Table.
Iowa City, Iowa, March 20, 2023 – Table to Table (T2T), a volunteer-based Iowa City non-profit organization that recovers and delivers half the food distributed to people facing food insecurity in Johnson County has had services disrupted after theft of catalytic converters from their food rescue vehicles.
Upon arriving at T2T to launch food rescue routes this past Friday morning, T2T staff and volunteers discovered two vehicles were completely disabled, missing their catalytic converters. This pricey part has been the target of a nationwide rash of thefts. While this stolen part may get thieves only $50 to $300 at a scrapyard, this small nonprofit will have to pay $1,500 to $3,000 to repair and replace the parts, and then even more to protect these vehicles and the others from future catalytic converter theft.
With just a small fleet of refrigerated cargo vans, T2T volunteers collect and redistribute 45,000 pounds of food each week in Johnson County. This is a critical lifeline local neighbors need now more than ever due to drastic reductions in SNAP benefits enacted in April of 2022, and a dramatic increase in food prices that have led to a rapidly changing (increasing) food insecurity landscape in Johnson County. As resources at T2T’s local partner organizations including local food pantries and emergency meal sites are stretched thinner and thinner, every pound of food T2T can deliver is critical. Due to these thefts, T2T is currently operating without a quarter of their regular fleet, making it harder to capture all the food available as long as the vehicles are out of commission.
T2T needs community support to get the vehicles back on the road and bring operations back up to full capacity. Costs estimated for the affected vehicles exceed $5,000 and estimates to protect their remaining vehicles is not yet known. To donate, please visit table2table.org/donation
Table to Table is a Johnson County non-profit that bridges the gap between abundance and hunger. Table to Table volunteers keep wholesome, edible food from going to waste by collecting it from local food donor organizations and distributing it to local anti-hunger organizations. T2T has distributed well over 30 million pounds of food locally since its founding in 1996.
Moldy bread, sour milk, and wilted veggies — these are all common outcomes of buying too much food.
Monthly Topic Overview
Reduce food waste at home and save money by following our easy, simple tips on how to shop to reduce food waste:
Before you head to the store…
Shop your kitchen. Inventory which food items you already have in the refrigerator and pantry to avoid buying duplicates.
Make a list. What meals or dishes do you plan to make this week? Identify which ingredients you will need and add them to the list.
Looking for list-making resources? Check out the many available grocery list phone apps, such as AnyList, Mealime, or OurGroceries. If you prefer a paper list, check out this shopping list template.
Eat a snack or meal. It is important to avoid grocery shopping when hungry as you are more susceptible to impulse purchases and over-buying.
Once at the store…
Think realistically about items on sale, such as “10 for $5”. It may seem like a tempting deal, but will you actually be able to consume ten? If not, you could end up with food waste, which results in money wasted.
Control quantity. To have better control of quantity when purchasing produce items, opt for unpackaged fresh fruits and vegetables. (Added climate benefit: you reduce packaging, too!)
Shop Your Kitchen:
Before going to the grocery store, “shop” your kitchen and make a list of what items you need. Stick to the list during shopping!
by Jayne Meacham, Iowa Gleaning Network Program Development Coordinator
When I came to Iowa Gleaning Network as the Program Development Coordinator there was pretty much nothing there but opportunity, pulled from the founder’s brains into reality through their knowledge of the food system landscape and hunger in Iowa. By talking to the right people at the right time, and sheer determination and perseverance, IGN was formed to push forward food justice and increase access to healthy food during the economic crisis brought on by the Covid19 pandemic.
I was brought on by Table to Table to organize the Network and lead the three gleaning coordinators, who had already been hired ahead of me, meaning I had to hit the ground running. On top of that, my first week was only a few days after eastern Iowa had been hit by a derecho, a freak storm of direct, high-speed winds that devastated much of the area, and left thousands, including myself and my family, without power for many days. Being thrown into this new position at this extra-tumultuous time gave me a glimpse of what food rescues, and community-minded people in general, can do in a time of acute crisis. In my neighborhood I saw folks helping each other to clear large branches, directing traffic around obstacles and down cleared streets, and extension cords and power strips extending from generators to share limited power so neighbors could at least reach their loved ones.
When I got to Table to Table, it was all hands on deck, a kind of organized chaos. It was my first week, but I was tasked with helping clean, organize, and, of course, to distribute food – I got behind the wheel of a big transit van for the first time and delivered 1000 lbs of onions around Johnson County that had come from the first joint IGN gleaning event at a farm near Waterloo. It was a stinky but satisfying first mission.
My second week, I visited gleaning coordinator, Jessie, at Feed Iowa First in Cedar Rapids. The destruction in Cedar Rapids was like nothing I had ever personally experienced before – whole trees ripped from the ground, detours and caution tape everywhere, roofs and walls knocked down or just missing all together. A lot of people were outdoors cleaning, chatting, helping each other out, or just walking, as it was easier to get around on foot. I went back to Cedar Rapids the next day to join Feed Iowa First on one of their produce distributions at an apartment complex that had been hit hard by the storm. What I kept seeing– despite the destruction, the lack of power, the heat and humidity, and having to wear masks because we’re also in the middle of a pandemic– were people smiling and laughing, kids playing, people lending a hand to their neighbors; folks making the best out of an extreme situation and taking action to help each other out.
As my year with VISTA went on, I kept these observations present in my mind – that people want to help and laugh and be together. Through autumn and winter I researched gleaning, reached out to other gleaning organizations across the country, and designed and wrote a 20+ page manual on gleaning, spreadsheets to store gleaning data, and slideshows with instructions and information on gleaning, safety, and our mission. In all these resources I tried to instill a sense of what I had felt in my first weeks on the job – that gleaning could provide more than just food in bellies. Gleaning is community. Gleaning is helpful to so many:
farmers who didn’t want to see their hard work just get plowed under
folks who are going stir-crazy in their homes during the pandemic and want to get outside and have a nice activity
people on a fixed income or whose budget is already stretched thin and want to make something healthy for dinner
gardeners whose garden beds are more productive than they expected and need somewhere to take their extra produce
kids who have come along to a gleaning event and get their hands dirty learning how to harvest the food they eat
Gleaning excess fruits and vegetables to give away to those who want them should be the standard, not the exception. I did my best to take care of the Network and help it grow to its full potential. At the end of the first season, 2020, we had gathered just under 25,000 pounds of produce with 3 IGN Gleaning Coordinators who were hired halfway through the growing season. After their service was over we came to the conclusion that the gleaning programs needed resources, not only the resource and instruction material I was writing, but also physical equipment to get their jobs done more effectively. I wrote a list of supplies each program would need for the upcoming season, priced everything out, and applied for and received a grant to purchase everything our programs needed for success. A highlight of my VISTA service was when I assembled all the gleaning kits and personally drove them to each of the 7 gleaning program host sites across Iowa. I happily drove my thousand mile cross-Iowa road trip and got to meet each coordinator.
I was especially pleased to meet Corinne Sills, the coordinator in Mason City, who is the only coordinator to return for a second year with IGN. Our discussions focused on the idea that gleaning is a community taking care of itself, sharing the abundance that springs forth from labor, and of people giving what they can and taking what they need –mutual aid, not charity. It’s clear that this message is shared by many in our state. In only our second year the network collected more than 70,000 pounds of fresh produce. Seventy thousand pounds of nutritious food that might have been left in the field and has now made its way to Iowan tables.
I hope that through my work as the Program Development Coordinator I have set the Iowa Gleaning Network on a good path toward long-term sustainability and many years of service to come. Gleaning may not be common in our culture, but it is simple. Gleaning is people coming together from various walks of life to gather what they can, save what’s worth saving, and to help each other out. It is mutually beneficial to all involved, and it is a sign of a healthy and vibrant community that can take care of itself and grow stronger in doing so. Gleaning is giving. I know no gleaner who doesn’t want to share.
After 5 years with Table to Table, Food Rescue Program Manager Emily Meister has accepted an exciting new opportunity as Eastern Iowa Regional Director of the National Farm Worker Program with Proteus. Proteus provides support services and medical care to migrant farm workers.
Emily originally joined the T2T team as a food rescue route volunteer in 2015 and transitioned from part-time staff to Food Rescue Program Manager in 2017. She’s brought her compassionate manner and dedication to eliminating food waste to each of her roles at T2T.
With Emily at the helm of route logistics and donor/client relations, we’ve increased food distribution from 1.8 million pounds of food to 2.4 million pounds each year. She has increased our number of regular food rescue routes by 25% and led several new initiatives that contribute to this incredible growth. These initiatives include expanding food sourcing opportunities to include the entire life cycle of food, from harvesting directly from farms and gardens to building relationships with food transport drivers who pass by Iowa City regularly and recovering food directly from food processors.
In her time at T2T, Emily has seized every opportunity to improve services and expand access to food throughout Johnson County. With these experiences under her belt, she’s going to be a great asset to Proteus and we wish her the best!
Join us for a farewell gathering at Big Grove on Wednesday, November 10th from 4pm to 6pm.
This week marks Emily Meister’s 5 year anniversary as a member of the Table to Table staff. Emily originally joined the team as a food rescue route volunteer in 2015 and transitioned from part-time staff to Food Rescue Program Manager in 2017. She’s brought her compassionate manner and dedication to eliminating food waste to each of her roles at T2T.
With Emily at the helm of route logistics and donor/client relations, we’ve increased food distribution from 1.8 million pounds of food to 2.4 million pounds each year. She has increased our number of regular food rescue routes by 25% and led several new initiatives that contribute to this incredible growth. These initiatives include expanding food sourcing opportunities to include the entire life cycle of food, from harvesting directly from farms and gardens to building relationships with food transport drivers who pass by Iowa City regularly and recovering food directly from food processors like Old Capitol Food Company, local creameries, and meat processors.
Through her strong relationships with our community partners, Emily sees the impact wholesome food can have on our neighbors,
“Table to Table serves a youth program that said they had never given the kids zucchini, but they’d try it. Now, they take some every time we have it. A local mental health service said that feeding people encourages them to attend group support that they need. They may not have come otherwise. The domestic violence shelter helps people stabilize by providing for their basic needs so residents can focus on accessing critical support services. A few years ago when we increased our deliveries to the shelter, they were able to hire staff with money saved from T2T food deliveries.”
When you hear her talk about food waste, it’s easy to see what drives her.
“We can make an impact far beyond the environmental implications or simply putting food in someone’s belly. This is not just wastedfood, but a wasted opportunity. An opportunity to provide safety and comfort to individuals in maybe the worst situation they’ve ever been in. An opportunity to provide stability and companionship to someone experiencing a mental health crisis. An opportunity to expand kids’ food repertoire and potentially impact their good choices and overall health for the rest of their lives. That’s a big deal. We can play our part in that by striving to do this one thing–recover good quality food.”
In her time at T2T, Emily has seized every opportunity to improve services and expand access to food throughout Johnson County.
Please join us in welcoming a new member of our team, Alex Courtney, who will be serving as our AmeriCorps Data Systems Coordinator for a year.
To understand Alex’s important role, a little recent history is in order. In 2019, Table to Table staff and leaders identified our current data management system as one of our biggest barriers. We’re tracking 2.5 million pounds of 10,000+ pick-ups and deliveries and 150 partnerships on paper and in Excel. Our 3-year strategic plan prioritizes new organization-wide software to help us overcome our infrastructure barriers and improve our food rescue operations. Alex is going to bring us from spreadsheets and paper into the 21st century. He will help us connect with our partners and volunteers easier and make all the data we collect more accessible and actionable.
Alex recently graduated from the University of Iowa with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science. He came to Table to Table in the summer of 2020 looking for a project that would use his skill set to do good and advance the mission. At that time, we were piloting a new mobile app that would help local gardeners donate their excess produce. As a volunteer, Alex helped us test and set up the app which we will be using for a second upcoming season. Impressed with his initiative on the first project, we invited him to join us for a new project as an AmeriCorps VISTA member. VISTA members commit to serving in a volunteer capacity full-time for a year. We were thrilled he agreed to join us and make this incredible commitment.
Alex is an aspiring software engineer. Now, three months into the project, it’s clear his experience is well suited to helping us identify a good fit for our software needs and leading us through the implementation process. Of his programming work, Alex says, “It’s construction by iteration. There’s always something to be improved upon if you’ve got the gumption to do it.” That’s one of the things that makes him a great fit for Table to Table – we’re always iterating and improving on the work of food rescue. This project to upgrade our systems is evidence of that.
Alex is a lifelong resident of Iowa City. As an Eagle Scout, Alex participated in service projects like Scouting for Food where he collected canned goods door to door and donated them to local food pantries. As an adult, he became acquainted with the T2T mission through his wife Bernice, who has been a route and committee volunteer for several years. This last year has helped Alex see the scope of hunger relief work. “Through involvement with Table to Table I have been able to see where that food ends up and the needs of people out there, especially during COVID, “ Alex explains. “I hope this [software project] will relieve the administrative burden on the staff and they can spend their time more efficiently and that we build a lasting solution, a software that helps them work together using data from all places.”
We’re happy to report that we’ve recruited another lover of food and food memories. T2T staff and volunteers often commiserate and connect over food favorites and after just a short couple of months, Alex is ready to collect new entries for a T2T recipe book. He is famous for his spicy Chex mix recipe and he’ll let you in on the secret, it’s fresh garlic and hot peppers. No word yet if the complete recipe will be in the next Recipes to the Rescue recipe book.
Twenty-five years ago retired teacher and leader, Frank Lalor, helped found Table to Table, Iowa’s first food rescue organization. Imagine, wrapping up an incredible career as an educator and deciding to dedicate the next 25 years to improving the community in a new way. Table to Table has been yet another educational endeavor for Frank, a lifelong learner. What is a community food rescue program, if not first and foremost an endeavor to educate people on food waste and hunger?
Together, Frank and a group of community leaders sought to alleviate hunger in our community while also reducing the environmental impact of food waste. Frank speaks of its inception as “merely a good idea whose time had come.” Frank’s son, Jerry, remembers that first donor phone call in Frank and Jeanette’s kitchen when Frank exclaimed “Hot Dog! We got one!”
Since his first delivery in the family station wagon in 1996, Frank’s passion and commitment to the work has never waned. He has continued to work with Table to Table in our daily mission, serving as the liaison to Iowa City Free Lunch Program and collecting ingredients for a well-rounded meal for more than 100 Free Lunch diners per day. He also delivers donations from key partners and has delivered more than 60,000 pounds of food a year on his routes. Most years, Table to Table rescued food 365 days because Frank showed up every single day to deliver any food remaining in storage. Empty refrigerators at T2T are a hallmark of the operation. We built upon Frank’s example to ensure all of the food we collect is delivered to people who will eat it by the end of the day.
Over the years, Frank has helped build a coalition of 50 nonprofit partners, 100+ food donors, and hundreds of community volunteers. At the end of each year, staff have come to look forward to Frank’s short retrospective,
“It’s been another good year! We filled all 365 days with at least one pick-up and delivery. Congratulations to us all–staff and volunteers–for this remarkable and satisfying achievement! We have done well in meeting our mission: of collecting and distributing food for the hungry, homeless, and others at risk.”
Buoyed by his constant encouragement, volunteers have delivered 25 million pounds of food and fed tens of thousands of our neighbors.
With this incredible milestone met, Frank is retiring from his role at Table to Table. In his announcement, Frank shared this message for those continuing his work,
Founder, Retired Special Projects & Requests Coordinator
Frank Lalor is one of 10 or 12 individuals who started meeting in October, 1995. Together, this group sought to alleviate hunger in our community while also reducing the environmental impact of food waste. Frank speaks of its inception as “merely a good idea whose time had come.”
In December 1994, Frank was watching CSPAN coverage on hunger in America and this burgeoning idea of “food rescue”. Upon seeing testimony from the founder of Minneapolis food rescue efforts, he was inspired to see what could be done right here in Johnson County. So in 1996, the group of local change-makers founded Table to Table and rescued 55,000 pounds of food for the hungry. For 25 years, Frank has kept up our daily mission to build connections between abundance and hunger in Johnson County. In fact, he helped ensure that we rescued food 365 days nearly every year since 1996.
Frank has an inexhaustible passion for the Table to Table mission and provides support and encouragement to both staff and our many volunteers. After a particularly cold or sweltering shift of food rescuing, Frank has been there to greet you with a smile, a kind, encouraging word, and an inducement to “see you next time!” as he sends you on your way.
Frank and his wife Jeannette have 5 children. When not out rescuing food, Frank enjoys watching the Hawkeyes, cooking and spending time with his wife.
Position Overview: Looking for a part-time gig with a local organization doing big things? This job is ideal for a reliable, friendly, and organized person with some free mornings during the week. The Program Assistant is responsible for supporting the daily function of the food rescue program and its volunteers in a welcoming and fast-paced environment. This person directs volunteers and communicates with donor/recipient sites to ensure smooth pick-up and delivery of donations. The best candidate is a team player with leadership experience and enjoys interacting with people of diverse ages and backgrounds. Applicants must be energetic, self-motivated, and have strong communication skills. This position reports to the Food Rescue Program Manager.