MUSCATINE, Iowa – In an effort to streamline services to better meet peoples’ needs and reduce costs, Muscatine County Community Services (MCCS) will implement a new voucher system. The vouchers will replace the emergency food and non-food bags MCCS previously distributed.
In the past, MCCS operated their own food pantry and passed out emergency food and non-food bags as well. In October 2018, Muscatine Center for Social Action (MCSA) began running the food pantry; however, they did not handle the emergency bags. This year, MCSA will hand out the emergency bags outside of normal food pantry hours, consolidating all of Muscatine County’s emergency food services in one place.
Even so, MCCS Director Felicia Toppert realized that people who utilize both the food pantry and emergency food and non-food bags still have other needs to meet. She elaborated that typically, people getting food assistance from the Department of Human Services receive about 80% of the money they need to buy food and can supplement that with the food available at the food pantry. However, food pantries frequently do not have perishable or semi-perishable items, such as meat, cheese, peanut or other nut butters, milk, bread, vegetables, or fruit. By providing vouchers, MCCS can help close this gap. As Toppert put it, “at least it assists people in getting those foods that they can’t get anywhere else and that are also important to being healthy and having a good diet.”
MCCS has given out food vouchers before and will improve on their existing system. Monthly food vouchers will increase by four dollars for families of all sizes. Additionally, these vouchers will have a list printed on them of what people can purchase with them, making it easy for area stores to honor them. As a condition of using the vouchers, recipients will now meet with a case worker, helping them access the services they need to become economically stable and no longer need assistance. “Really, our goal should be to help them become more able to sustain themselves, even if it’s a matter of going to other community agencies and taking advantage of programs they haven’t accessed yet or even know exist, for that matter,” explained Toppert.
The new non-food voucher will work in a similar way. Instead of handing out bags containing laundry detergent, dish soap, bar soap, and toilet paper, MCCS will give out vouchers for these items worth both $10 and $15.
Individuals with some items on the list already will get $10 monthly vouchers, whereas those with no supplies will get $15 vouchers. An innovative program, these vouchers will cover a need most food pantries will not. As with the food vouchers, recipients of the non-food vouchers will work with a case manager, helping more people in need work towards self-sufficiency.
As MCCS updates and implements their voucher programs, they look forward to helping more people and using their funding more efficiently. “It should, at the worst, be budget neutral. It should be lower,” predicted Toppert.
Jennifer Lierness, Resource Development Officer at Muscatine Center for Social Action, contacted Discover Muscatine to clarify that MCSA does not distribute emergency food bags. Instead, MCSA encourages those in need of food to visit their food pantry on both Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. People may visit the food pantry both days as needed.