Iowa food pantries weather COVID, face unprecedented storm coming this winter

In March, Kelli Greenland faced a devil of a choice – should she accept a retail job as an essential worker, or should she remain home to keep her medically fragile son safe from exposure to the novel coronavirus? The West Des Moines mother of two decided to stay home initially. Greenland relied heavily on food pantries to feed her family, which includes son Ethan, 7, who has asthma, and daughter Skylynn, 4, who is lactose intolerant. The family had used food pantries previously, but “not like we’ve had to this year,” Greenland, 30, said. “Definitely, 2020 has been a ride, from not being able to get food in-stock in the beginning in the grocery stores to not being able to go to the stores because my son has severe asthma, and the possibility of exposing him,” Greenland said.

The people behind a rural Iowa school district enduring the coronavirus

Gusty winds blew corn husks through the school’s parking lot on November 16 at South Hamilton Schools. This piece is part of a collaborative reporting project that includes the Institute for Nonprofit News, Charlottesville Tomorrow, El Paso Matters, IowaWatch, The Nevada Independent, New Mexico in Depth, Underscore News/Pamplin Media Group and Wisconsin Watch/The Badger Project. The collaboration was made possible by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. It was another day of the staff trying to keep up with the daily reports of sickened students and faculty, making sure kids pumped hand sanitizer and wore face masks nearly all the time, properly social distanced during band practice and lunch periods, and pivoted from teaching in-person and virtual learners while taking extra time to help those struggling. 

Even the lunchroom is different this year. Cafeteria tables limit seating.

Front-line workers on COVID’s severity: ‘We’ve never seen anything like this’

Despite all of the reporting, public announcements and warnings from health care professionals, community leaders and elected officials, health care workers IowaWatch spoke with as 2020 drew to a close said many people still don’t understand the severity of suffering that the people hit hardest with COVID-19 have to endure. Unless, that it, they have seen it up close, themselves, with someone they know.

Stimulus money was only a short-term fix as rural hospitals brace for the next COVID-19 surges

One by one, COVID-19 outbreaks popped up in April and May at meatpacking plants across the country, fanning fears that the infectious coronavirus could spread rapidly into rural states. Plants closed temporarily in small metro areas like Waterloo, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, but also smaller Iowa towns like Tama, Columbus Junction and Perry. 

Leaders at Buena Vista Regional Medical Center in Storm Lake, a northwest Iowa town of 10,500 with a Tyson Foods packing plant, knew their time would come. “We just didn’t know to what degree,” Rob Colerick, the hospital CEO and administrator, said. “I mean, you saw it in Columbus Junction. You saw it in Waterloo.