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Service Highlight: Time to Eat! Grinnell

Jill Harris is a retired GNCSD educator and currently an AmeriCorps VISTA member in the Skills Gap Taskforce Coordinator position. In this role, she has recruited a taskforce of community partners to help her design and implement projects to support GNCSD students. One project that Jill is particularly proud of is the Time to Eat! Grinnell initiative with the Grinnell Food Coalition. She shared her thoughts about this project below during AmeriCorps Week.

Once the food distributions came to a close, Jill and her fellow AmeriCorps VISTAs had coordinated with 27 local agencies and 13 agencies from surrounding areas to distribute 7,291 food boxes, amounting to $274,000 worth of food. As volunteer coordinator, Jill organized 111 volunteers to help with the distribution events, which spanned from December 2020 to May 2021.

Jill, at right, directs traffic at the Grinnell Food Coalition distribution.

Share a little with us about the Time to Eat! Grinnell project:

In the spring of 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic set in, it became evident that food insecurity for many Grinnell families, including children, was growing. The Grinnell Food Coalition (GFC) was formed to address this issue through a food voucher program. In late fall of 2020, a GFC member learned of the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program (Coronavirus Food Assistance Program) and the GFC received their first few food boxes from Eat Greater Des Moines for trial runs in December before committing to distributing a full load (1,188 food boxes and 1,188 gallons of milk) beginning in January of 2021. Each 30 pound box contains fresh produce, dairy and meat proteins plus a gallon of 2% milk. My role in this distribution process is the Volunteer Coordinator.

Why is this project important to the community? To you?

As the AmeriCorps VISTA Skills Gap Taskforce Coordinator and as a retired GNCSD educator, I know the ramifications a hungry, food insecure child faces as they try to conquer learning. Attempting to focus on schoolwork and emotional well-being is pretty tough when your belly is empty, especially knowing there is little or no food when you get home. Providing families with a bit of relief at no cost or stipulation seems like a win-win situation. Practicing neighborly deed, big or small, are what binds a community together. I strongly believe that is why humans walk this earth, to serve one another.

What has been your favorite part of this project?

There is so much to love about this project that it is tough to narrow it down to a “favorite.” The heartfelt appreciation shown and verbalized by recipients of the food boxes has truly been a highlight of this project. The outflow of volunteers, community members of all walks of life, has also been magnificent. I must also include the fabulous partnership of Bayer CropScience and their employees as well as the GFC team, who have such a strong sense of community, as being favorite aspects of this project.

Jill, at center, after her final concert as a music teacher in May 2018.

What is the best part of being an AmeriCorps member at GEP?

Continuing to be involved in educational initiatives, having the opportunity to collaborate with an amazing taskforce and building capacity with remarkable partners are high points of being a GEP AmeriCorps member. Our group of AmeriCorps VISTA cohorts, our supervisor and our program manager are an added bonus. However, the purposeful and intentional focus on improving literacy proficiency for all children of Grinnell is the true nugget of being an AmeriCorps member at GEP.

Thank you for your continued dedication to students in the Grinnell area, Jill! So many have been touched by your service.


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