IOWA STOPS HUNGER: Business leaders making a difference

Building partnerships and collaboration are keys for the business community’s success in the fight against food insecurity. That was the message from Business Publications Corp.’s virtual event this week, “Business Leaders Making A Difference.”

And that success will continue to build on Iowa’s rich history of fighting food insecurity and hunger, one business leader said during the event on Tuesday, which featured a panel of speakers who shared what they and their companies are doing to address food insecurity and make a difference in their community.

Business Publications Corp. and its publications, including the Business Record, dsm magazine and ia magazine, began Iowa Stops Hunger in 2020 as the number of people experiencing food insecurity increased during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. The goal was to raise attention to those who are food insecure and focus on those who have made it their mission to help.

Now, two years later, food insecurity is surging as inflation has pushed food and fuel prices higher. That has created an additional burden to SNAP recipients who saw their benefits reduced on April 1, just as inflation was soaring to its highest levels in 40 years.

The panelists who participated in the discussion were:

  • Rona Berinobis, vice president of corporate responsibility and organizational development, Athene USA.
  • Nate Clark, global director of corporate social responsibility at John Deere and president of the John Deere Foundation.
  • Sharon Krause, board member for In Harmony Farm and owner of Dalla Terra Ranch.
  • Leah Rodenberg, senior program manager, Alliant Energy.
  • Emily Schmitt, chief administrative officer, Sukup Manufacturing.

Here are some highlights from their presentations. Their comments may have been edited for length.

Rona Berinobis

“The Food Bank of Iowa is one area that we support, but most specifically there are two parts of their programming we really lean into. First is the weekend backpack program. During the week, the kiddos at the public schools have the opportunity to have nutritious meals at breakfast and lunch at no cost. However, at the end of the week, oftentimes there may not be as much nutritional capability in the home, so through this program kiddos can take home a weekend backpack full of food for them and their families. In this last year it provided nearly 14,000 backpacks and about 48,000 pounds of food. Another program we support is the culturally responsive food program that provided over 40,000 pounds of masa flour into culturally specific communities.”



Nate Clark

“When we invest in ways that empower food bankers and other experts to collect, to distribute more food to those experiencing hunger in our state, and do so in ways that are more humane and more efficient and more effective. The food bankers do it. Period. And these results speak for themselves. Second, you’ll notice that I’m referring to food bankers and other experts as opposed to food banks or agencies or pantries or nonprofit organizations. Because we depend upon people, these amazing people, to stop hunger. Iowa doesn’t stop hunger; Iowans stop hunger. And when you invest in these Iowans through unrestricted donations, you’re able to provide them with the kinds of things that we’ve all come to expect to enhance our own productivity, its benefits and salaries and developmental opportunities, and in so doing, you give these Iowans the respect and dignity we deserve.”

Sharon Krause

“We are a new 501(c)(3). We started with the donation of 70 acres of land just north of Earlham, just west of the metro. Last year, when we were trying to envision what we would look like, we met with stakeholders from all over the community to try and identify where the gaps are today in terms of agriculture, conservation-forward land management practices, and to provide meaningful experiences for the community. This past year our 70 acres have turned into 25 tillable acres. We have six farming families from Burundi, Africa, that are farming specialty crops and then many things familiar to Iowans. In addition to that, we have a grazing farmer starting, another Burundian family that wants to get started raising sheep and goats. We’re just now finishing our campus build-out so there is a water hydrant at every farm, we will have a wash and pack building and coolers for these farmers to be able to store their produce before they go to market. We’re going to take this winter to level-set and determine what additional resources do they need. Do they need introduction to employment law, tax law, food safety, agronomy, conservation? This will come with interpretation and translation services for the farmers we work with, but we think all of this is critical to build their small farm businesses.”

Leah Rodenberg

“We have made it a priority to support the food banks and food pantries throughout the year in various ways through grants, sponsorships and volunteer engagement. We live our value of caring for others by being an active participant throughout the state and doing our part to help Iowans in need. Currently we are gearing up for the Hunger Action Month activities in September. We look to identify creative ways throughout the year to support food programs. On the second Thursday of each month, our employees in Centerville host a mobile food distribution at our operations center. We began this sponsorship last year when we saw that Appanoose County was not being served by a mobile food pantry. This event has now become Food Bank of Iowa’s largest mobile, serving over 300 households per month. This summer, we held a campaign to engage our customers with our My Account program. For every customer that signed up for our free online platform, we provided three meals to a food bank. As a result, we had over 16,000 customers sign up resulting in a donation of over 50,000 meals. We also partner with the Cedar Kernels on a strikeout hunger promotion, where we provide funds for the HACAP food reservoir’s backpack program. We also partner with the UNI Panthers football team on a sack hunger program, with the funds benefiting the Northeast Iowa Food Bank.”

Emily Schmitt

“Many places are still really experiencing loss to spoilage, which affects the world’s food supply. So in the spirit of our founders, some of the ways we are contributing to that is Sukup Manufacturing sponsors a global food security award with the American Society for Ag and Bioscience Engineers. This is a way to recognize and encourage an enhancement of food security by engineering or the application of engineering and production or distribution of food. The latest recipient has worked in West Africa and soil health and using cover crops and maintenance of farm equipment because that does increase productivity and increases the food supply from the land. I believe that raising awareness of food supplies is really embedded in our DNA. From George Washington Carver or Norman Borlaug and the World Food Prize. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Iowa’s only president, Herbert Hoover’s mission. He was a mining engineer living in London and when the First World War broke out he became a key figure in logistics, planning to send the Americans home and he was tapped by an ambassador to help get food into a blockade in Belgium. This effort produced 5.7 million tons of food serving 9.5 million people. So here in Iowa, we are surrounded by such a rich history [of fighting] food insecurity.”

Rewatch the entire Iowa Stops Hunger virtual event discussion.

Iowa Stops Hunger is a Business Publications Corp. initiative to bring awareness and action to food insecurity in Iowa. Read additional stories on
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