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Micah House receives $50,000 for fight against food insecurity
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Micah House receives $50,000 for fight against food insecurity

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Entering the holiday season, the Micah House homeless shelter just got some help in the fight against food insecurity.

Google announced Thursday it has awarded a $50,000 grant to the Micah House Emergency Family Shelter to support its shelter and food programs. It was one of 20 grants given to innovative food pantries, food banks and food assistance programs, according to the company.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Google has contributed more than $20 million in employee donations and company matches to food banks and pantries around the world, a press release from Google stated.

“When we hear from families — especially around the holidays — that they are grateful to have a place to sleep at night, it is only possible because of generous community support from individuals and companies like Google,” said Ashley Flater, associate director of Micah House, located on the Charles E. Lakin Human Services Campus at North 16th Street and Avenue G. “The grant provided by Google will directly help those facing food insecurities and allow children, their parents and women experiencing homelessness in our community (to) have safe shelter as they get back on their feet.”

In 2020, the Micah House served 34,284 nutritious meals to families and women experiencing homelessness, according to an impact statement on its website.

“We’re very much in the business of feeding people,” Flater said.

During the growing season, women staying at the shelter work a couple times a week to raise produce in a hoop house on the Lakin Campus, according to Jenny Andersen, director of marketing and community development. The women, along with community volunteers, recently finished harvesting for the year.

The hoop house was set up in September 2011 by Iowa Western Community College construction technology students with the help of a $25,000 grant the college received from Learn & Serve America, a federally funded program of the Corporation for National & Community Service. It was initially shared by the Micah House and the Boys & Girls Club and tended by children from both places, as well as community volunteers.

The shelter also picks up food donations from local grocery stores and restaurants and shares some perishables with local food pantries, Flater said.

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“Anytime we have enough overflow — especially food that we won’t be able to use in time — we share that with our partners,” she said. “The last thing we want to see is food going to waste.”

Some food, of course, has to be purchased — especially meat, Flater said.

Besides financial support, Google has worked to expand and update information available to consumers through its search engine. Every day, hundreds of thousands of people come to Google Search to find information on food assistance. Between Thanksgiving and New Year, searches for food banks and pantries spike on Google. In fact, for more than a decade, search interest on Google for “food bank” and “food pantry” queries spikes by 30% to 50% every November, Google’s press release stated.

The pandemic has escalated food insecurity across the country. In Iowa, Google searches for “food pantry near me” went up 50% in 2021, and search interest in SNAP reached an all-time high in January 2021, the company said. Interest in helping has also increased, with searches for “volunteer opportunities near me” rising by 160%.

“The pandemic has increased the number of families facing food insecurity, including right here in Iowa,” Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh said in the release. “New tools launched (Thursday) by Google, a key community partner in Council Bluffs, will make it easier for families to find assistance. Google’s donation to the Micah House will also directly aid in their mission to combat hunger in our community.”

To help people find food and give back, Google said it has added several new features.

Google is working with WhyHunger and Hunger Free America to update information on food banks and pantries available through Google Search and Maps, which already have 24,000 food bank and pantry listings, according to the press release. Google employees have spent more than 7,000 hours on the phone to help verify Google Maps listings.

Food banks, pantries and soup kitchens can also use the new Google My Business feature developed specifically for them to highlight hours of operation, services, types of donations accepted and appointment availability where applicable.

Federal benefit programs like the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program feed more than 40 million Americans each year. As of Thursday, when people search for SNAP benefits or the name of their local SNAP program, they will find direct links to their state’s eligibility guidelines and application process, as well as contact information for local food assistance agencies, the company said.

Users can also search for “stores that accept EBT near me” and find a list of grocery, convenience stores and farmers markets nearby that accept EBT as a payment method.

“Tens of millions of people face food insecurity across the United States, and the ongoing pandemic has only exacerbated the issue,” Emily Ma, head of Food for Good at Google, said in the release. “With the launch of these new features, we’re working to ensure that all Americans get the information they need to put food on their tables, and we’re proud to highlight the organizations doing the critical work to tackle food insecurity head on.”

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