ALTOONA, Iowa — School is out for the summer and that creates a major void for the approximately 30 percent of Southeast Polk students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.
As a way to make sure those students get fed, the “Altoona Kids Cafe” is stepping in to help.
It’s more than a place where at-risk kids can get a meal. It’s also a place where they can gain experiences they would probably never have otherwise, and that’s making it quite a popular place.
It started with only 30 kids, now it’s hit capacity at around 220 students. In their sixth summer of service, they had to close enrollment.
“We are a completely volunteer-based organization, and we only have so much space and so many volunteers, and so we can only handle so many kids,” Altoona Kids Cafe Executive Director and Co-Founder Maggie Crabb said.
It’s no wonder why so many kids love being a part of the program, with activities like learning a new instrument or getting some much-needed snuggles with a service dog. But the priority is always making sure no kid goes home hungry.
“Last year we started giving breakfast because there was a lot of kids coming in here hungry in the morning. It’s great seeing how their attitude changes once they get food and realize that it’s a safe place to be,” Volunteer coordinator Derek Carlson said.
“We knew that we needed to provide the food for the kids, but we knew that they needed something fun to do as well,” Crabb said. “We knew that would be the draw to get them here.”
Making it all possible are the volunteers. From the classroom helpers to the activities put on free of charge.
“The volunteers help us a lot and give us things [that] some people don’t have that,” Eve Cammu, an Altoona Kids Cafe member said. “They give us things and support us and we’re, like, all family.”
That family is large. At least 60 volunteers are needed every single day during the six-week program.
“Without the volunteers, there would be no program,” Kerrin Martinson, Co-Founder and Vice President of the Altoona Kids Cafe Executive Board said.
Not just anyone can attend the Altoona Kids Cafe. Since it’s a USDA program operated by a nonprofit, at least 50 percent of the children enrolled must be from households with incomes at or below 185 percent of the poverty level.
The program really saw its numbers grow after teaming up with the Southeast Polk School District for transportation services. They said one of the biggest problems with these programs is a lack of transportation for these families who want to utilize the services. Now school buses pick up any enrolled student who needs it.
ALTOONA, Iowa — The Facebook data center in Altoona is about to get bigger, after the city council recently approved an expansion.
Social media giant Facebook now has the green light to build a $400 million building expansion in Altoona, which will also potentially add 70 new jobs to the area.
City leaders say this expansion will make future development in that area possible and even have some benefits for the businesses already there, but some residents and business owners are not happy with the tax break Facebook gets for the expansion.
Altoona City Administrator Jeff Mark said with the new agreement the city council passed Monday night, Facebook gets a 20-year deal where the company only has to pay $3 per square foot of this new building expansion instead of paying full property taxes.
After all of the agreements the City of Altoona has made with Facebook, Mark said the social media giant will be paying the city a total of $4.5 million every year and even helping development by adding a water pressure booster station.
“It will more than serve everything in our northwest quadrant so its future growth north of the interstate and the existing growth that we are having right now around the Outlets of Des Moines, Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse, the hotels, that entire Prairie Crossing development they’ll all benefit form that booster station,” Mark said.
Mark said the money they’re getting from Facebook equals about 60 percent of what they would be paying in taxes, which some residents and business owners say is not fair.
“This makes absolutely no sense and what about the school system. Why does the city get to make deals? And so if they’re only going to pay 60 percent, they’re cheating the schools out of 40 percent,” Altoona resident Mike Harmeyer said.
Mark said they understand these frustrations but claims deals like this are all part of the economic development process.
“And if you’re going to be a growing community attracting these types of businesses to the community I think the mayor and council have done an excellent job of weighing through what the alternatives were sticking to their guns and coming up with this agreement to where the city does receive increased revenues from this expansion,” Mark said.
But residents still feel the city didn’t need to give Facebook this tax break.
“I’m sure they would have built them buildings anyway, but it’s just having proper management within the city to get these deals negotiated. Like I say, why is it Ankeny can get buildings built without having to tiff everything. It goes right down to the management of the city,” Harmeyer said.
Local business owner Joe Free said he thinks local businesses are continually being overlooked.
“The problem I have is the city has a tendency to overlook businesses they already have and roll out the red carpet for businesses like Facebook,” Free said.
Mark said the next step for the expansion is for Facebook to submit building drawings for approval. He believes Facebook could break ground by the end of summer.
ALTOONA, Iowa — Drivers on busy 1st Avenue in Altoona will need to get used to a detour this summer.
Starting Monday at 7 a.m., the City of Altoona is closing down 1st Avenue from 2nd Street NW to 2nd Street SW.
The road is closing to accommodate phase one of the 1st Avenue Reconstruction Project which will repave and widen the road in both directions.
The closure is expected to last until August, so until then, travelers will be rerouted onto 2nd Street NW and down 5th Avenue to 8th Street SW.