John Ockenfels grew up with a strong concept of community service instilled in him. Throughout his life and career, he’s made it a priority to give back. Whether it’s time spent on the Habitat for Humanity board of directors or donating food to The Crisis Center Food Bank, John and his wife, Deb, have grown together in a concept of positive community service.
Week by week, one pickup truck load at a time, they have now donated more than 29,000 pounds of fresh, locally-grown, USDA-certified produce to The Crisis Center’s food bank.
“If you’re going to be successful, you need to have food,” Deb said. “You can’t do a good job if you’re hungry.”
It all started with a friendly competition between the local Rotary Clubs: the Rotary “Food Fight” competition, organized by their daughter, Kris and former Iowa City AM Rotary Club President Deb Dunkhase. They started making regular trips to the auction, buying produce in bulk to donate to The Crisis Center. The their club won the competition by a landslide.
At the time, Deb said, it was simply something fun that they could do together. Now it’s so much more than just a fun trip to the auction – it’s become a way of life. They deliver up to four days a week during the height of the growing season, dropping off anywhere from 150 to 1,500 pounds of food at a time.
“The Ockenfels feel as much like part of The Crisis Center family as our volunteers,” Sarah Benson Witry, Food Bank and Emergency Assistance Coordinator, said.
They don’t want a lot of recognition or praise, though. As they looked back at what they’ve accomplished over this past year, John stopped and asked, “So what does this mean to the clients? Are THEY happy with it?”
They are. In fact, one client told Crisis Center staff that she’s lost 40 pounds since she started coming to the food bank. She hadn’t been able to afford fresh produce or other healthy foods from the store and always resorted to spending money on cheaper, less healthy foods. Now, however, she’s able to consistently access fresh produce and other nutritious foods at the food bank.
This is due in large part to donations from the Ockenfels and other large produce donors. However, the Ockenfels explained, anyone can help.
“You don’t have to do things in a huge way to make a big difference,” said John. “It’s easy to help.”
“If something is on sale at the store, buy two,” Deb said. “One for you and one to donate. It doesn’t have to be on a large scale to make an impact.”