Essex resident recognized by Iowa State Fair fort’s work to overcome food insecurity | Local News

Heidi Hertensen Shenandoah Valley News

An Essex resident was recently recognized at the Iowa State Fair for the work she does in her community.

Each year since 1997, the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation and Cookies Food Products select an Iowa resident for each of the 10 days of the Iowa State Fair and recognize that person as the Iowan of the Day. The program aims to honor people living in Iowa who are making a difference in their community.

On Saturday, August 20, Essex’s Jeannine Liljedahl received the honor of being the Iowan of the Day on the Bill Riley Stage at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. When selecting Iowans from submitted nominations, judges look for individuals who have demonstrated integrity, pride, hard work and dedication to their community, according to a news release.

Liljedahl was nominated because the Essex community believes she has a generous soul and positively impacts community members, the statement said. Ensuring food security and inclusion of community members is a passion for Liljedahl, and her perseverance and hard work bless the community.

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Liljedahl said she found out she was nominated and won it all simultaneously – it was very excited.

“I love the Iowa State Fair, and it’s truly an honor to represent Southwest Iowa,” she said.

Volunteering is something Liljedahl said she always enjoyed, but became more involved in volunteering in the community after getting married. The pantry is where Liljedahl “found my calling,” she said.

“Everyone deserves to have food,” Liljedahl said. “I don’t know what it’s like to have no food in my cupboard. I don’t know what it does.

Liljedahl said it breaks her heart to think of someone who has no food to eat. For the past 19 years, she has volunteered at the Community Food Pantry in Shenandoah, serving Blanchard, Coin, Essex, Farragut, Northboro and Shenandoah. She is currently the Pantry Chair.

As a volunteer, she was instrumental in the success of the Shenandoah Food Pantry. Liljedahl said she originally wanted to create a food pantry specifically for Essex but didn’t know where to start, so she volunteered at the Shenandoah Food Pantry.

She later realized that Essex didn’t need its own pantry, as Shenandoah’s was well organized and had a large group of volunteers. Liljedahl attributes part of the pantry’s success to a supportive community.

“I’d like to think we have a good reputation in the community,” Liljedahl said. “When I get out of there, and whenever it’s like I was hoping, I helped someone today. I hope it made a little difference in their life.

She said you meet a lot of great people as a volunteer and make friends with some of the clients. She has no regrets and is grateful to have gotten involved in the pantry. Lilidahl said last year the pantry has expanded its services and now offers a space where customers can buy clothes, household items, books and other items that were given away for free when they pick up their food.

Liljedahl was also the co-founder and manager of the Little Red Wagon, which delivered meals to Essex residents for around 20 years. She said restaurants would prepare and pack the food in take-out containers, then she and volunteers would deliver the meals to Essex residents.

“When we started this, there were three of us, and I thought if we could last a year,” Liljedahl said.

Twenty years later, Liljedahl said it had been a lot of fun but a lot of work and had to discontinue Little Red Wagon service to continue his pantry work. She always thought it was time to quit if she couldn’t give it her all.

In addition to her work in the community with the food pantry and meal service, Liljedahl is also a member of the Southview Village Low-Rental Housing Board of Directors. She is a foundation member and volunteer at the Shenandoah Medical Center Gift Shop and is involved in PEO (Women’s Scholarship Organization), while serving on the Library Board, Rotary Club, West Central Community Action Board, Magistrate Selection Committee, Shenandoah Book Club and Essex Study and Service Club.

Liljedahl said she loves all the delicious food at the Iowa State Fair, but she also loves that it’s still something you can make as a family. She also said that while she doesn’t expect any recognition for her volunteer efforts, “it’s really nice sometimes to be recognized.”

Each Iowan of the Day recipient receives accommodations at the Des Moines Marriott Downtown, a cash prize, admission tickets to the Iowa State Fair, use of a golf cart for the day to get around in the fairgrounds and a VIP car park on the fairgrounds.

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