It started more than 15 years ago as a short-term community meal project. Today, that project has grown into a food pantry and meals program that serves tens of thousands of people in Ames, Iowa every year.
Called Food at First, the nonprofit serves free, hot, daily meals to absolutely anyone who wants one. Supplying, preparing, and serving the meals is a true community effort. Grocery stores, restaurants, and Iowa State University donate the food. What volunteer chefs don’t use for the meals is available free to community members through Food at First’s food pantry, known as the Free Market. Anything leftover or damaged goes to farmers, who use it to feed their animals.
“Our mission is to feed people and recycle food,” says Patty Yoder, Food at First’s Executive Director, who started cooking for the group in its earliest days.
“We like to keep it simple—no questions asked. We’re very proud of that. ”
Food at First has had a big impact on Ames, which has a population of 66,000 residents—half of whom are Iowa State University students. The nonprofit:
- Serves about 43,000 people annually through its Free Market food pantry
- Provided 28,500 meals in 2020
- Utilizes around 300 volunteers weekly from a pool of more than 4,000
Intrigued by talks with a local branch manager about Bank of the West’s environmental policies and actions, Patty began transitioning Food at First to the bank in early 2021.
“I was so impressed by how strong Bank of the West is with recycling and the environment,” she says. “It definitely was key in moving our accounts there. One thing I really liked was the recyclable debit card.”
On top of sharing the bank’s environmental values, Patty says she likes how Bank of the West’s customer service is laced with “small-town Iowa kindness.”
“That’s been pleasant,” she says, “and they made it easy to transition for us. I’m really excited about being a member.”
Learn more about Bank of the West’s actions on sustainability here.