FOREST CITY | The Neighborhood Food Bank of Winnebago County has been distributing food and other items to those in need since 1983.

It wouldn't be possible without the continued support from non-profits, schools, businesses, churches and individuals, according to Wayne Johns, the director of the food bank since 1997.

"So many people have been so generous," he said. 

This year the food bank has been serving an average of 197 families a month, an increase of 26 families from last year. 

The Des Moines-based Food Bank of Iowa supports the Neighborhood Food Bank as well as other food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in 55 counties.

However, with the increased number of food pantries, "they are struggling to keep up with the demand," Johns said. 

He used to get four or five inventory sheets per shipment from Des Moines, but last week he only had one and a half sheets. 

The Food Bank of Iowa receives 31 percent of its food from the USDA.

"They are hurting for money at the USDA too," Johns said. 

Fortunately, the Neighborhood Food Bank has been received a lot of local support, according to Johns. 

The level of giving tends to decrease after Christmas, but food drives throughout the year, such as Stamp Out Hunger in the spring and the Boy Scouts' collection in the fall, help keep the shelves stocked. 

"The Hanson Foundation has been fabulous," Johns said, noting they cover the overhead "and then some" for the food bank. 

Local grocery stores have been very helpful, he said.

The opening of three local food pantries in Winnebago County also has helped tremendously, according to Johns.

Those food pantries are located in Leland, Buffalo Center and Lake Mills. Representatives from these pantries serve on the Neighborhood Food Bank Board of Directors.  

The Neighborhood Food Bank in Forest City is open every Monday, but clients can only go there once a month. 

However, the local food pantries allow clients to come once or twice a month. This means some clients can get food three times a month. 

About 80 percent of the clients live in Winnebago County, while 15 percent live in Hancock County. The rest live in Worth County.

The food bank sees some families every month. Others only come in when they are laid off from work. 

The food bank provides more than just non-perishable food items such as cereal, peanut butter and canned spaghetti sauce. 

It also has bars of soap, dish soap, laundry detergent, toilet paper and other non-food items contributed by the Food Bank of Iowa.

What the food bank gets varies from month to month. 

"What every client seems to want is toilet paper," Johns said.

Clients receive Bill's Family Foods gift cards, which can only be used for milk, meat, fruit, vegetables and eggs. 

The food bank used to alternate between Forest City Foods and Bill's for gift cards, but Forest City Foods is closing at the end of the year.

Clients are required to sign a form stating they meet the Iowa Department of Human Services' Emergency Food Assistance Program eligibility requirements, which are based on income and family size.

For example, a single person must earn $22,311 a year or less before taxes to qualify, while a family of four must have a combined income of $45,510 or less. 

This month the clients are getting a little extra for Christmas. 

Families of six or more will receive their choice of a turkey or a large ham, while families of four or five are each getting a smaller ham.

Households of two or three are being offered a two-pound turkey loaf. 

The food bank is giving ground beef or turkey to single-person households from Christmas. 

Eight volunteers come to the food bank every Monday. Some of them help carry food to client's cars. 

The Food Bank of Iowa drops off items in Clear Lake for the Neighborhood Food Bank, so volunteers from Winnebago County drive there to pick them up. 

Johns said these volunteers have to load up to 4,000 pounds of food during each trip. 

Individuals who want to donate non-perishable food items to the Neighborhood Food Bank can drop them off at Bill's Family Foods, Immanuel Lutheran Church or the United Methodist Church in Forest City.