"SHSI Certificate of Recognition"
"Best on the Web"

Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
Jump to navigationJump to search
423 W. Locust. Photo in 2011.

DUBUQUE AREA LABOR HARVEST. The Dubuque Area Labor Harvest, a non-profit organization, was established to provide free meals and food assistance for low income residents in Dubuque. Founded in the 1980s when the city was in the midst of an economic depression and had the state's highest unemployment rate of 23% (between 1980 and 1983), the Labor Harvest was an outgrowth of union-organized food drives for their members. (1)

One of the earliest programs of the Labor Harvest was an annual Christmas dinner which began around 1985. In 2015 the Masonic Lodge cooperated in the event. As many as fifty volunteers cooked the food at the Masonic Temple where it was served to an estimated 400 people and helped deliver it to an additional 450 people who could not leave their homes. The 2015 event included a toy giveaway funded by a breakfast fundraiser. (2)

The food drives were eventually opened to the general public and became a regular event. Begun in 1989, the monthly giveaways usually distributed about 350 boxes of groceries. Working with the United Way Labor's Community Service, the food giveaway for low-income people was funded by a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency which required that food recipients be residents of Dubuque County. (3) In 2019 the Labor Harvest distributed between 200 and 400 boxes of groceries on a typical Saturday.

With such food distributions essential to many elderly and those living on fixed incomes, the need for financial support was critical. Labor Harvest officials reported that without grants from such agencies as the DUBUQUE RACING ASSOCIATION it probably could not exist. In 2019 the DRA supplied $15,000. (4) In 2013 DIAMOND JO CASINO donated 450 pounds of hamburger and roasts which had been purchased at the Dubuque County 4-H Livestock Auction. (5) In 2022 the Labor Harvest continued to give away boxes of groceries to families in need every second Saturday of the month and served hot breakfast other Saturdays of the month. In one week during August, 2020 the Harvest volunteers served 289 breakfasts.

During the PANDEMIC the Harvest began deliveries groceries to individual homes and continued to do so every first and third Saturday of the month. Between twenty to 25 people volunteered for the monthly giveaway with another six to eight working on the weekly hot breakfast. Home deliveries of food occupied the time of between fifteen and twenty volunteers. (6)

On September 21, 2002, officials of the Labor Harvest announced the agency would end its free food deliveries on October 1st because of recent inflation and demand outpacing pantry revenues. The organization had made over 100 deliveries in each of the preceding eight months climbing to 230 deliveries in June and 315 in August. Suggestions remedies included reallocating some of the clients to other pantry providers such as the DUBUQUE FOOD PANTRY. (7)

On September 28, 2022, Jason Neises, community development coordinator at the COMMUNITY FOUNDATION OF GREATER DUBUQUE announced that Dubuque Resources Unite would direct residents to food services appropriate to their need. Dubuque Area Labor Harvest would continue making deliveries to those who were disabled, home-bound or otherwise unable to leave their home." Other agencies would handle deliveries to affordable housing and assisted living complexes. Nonprofit officials believed there were many inefficiencies prior to the change including deliveries to senior and affordable living complexes already being served by other agencies. (8)



1. Irvine, Joshua, "Dubuque Area Benefits from Fruits of Labor Harvest," Telegraph Herald, August 5, 2022, p. 2A

2. Hogstrom, Erik, "Nearly 1,000 Enjoy the Fruits of Labor Union's Labor," Telegraph Herald, December 21, 2015, p. 1

3. "Food Giveaway Set for Saturday," Telegraph Herald, June 12, 2003, p. 1

4. Montgomery, Jeff, "DRA Grant Total Rises," Telegraph Herald, May 23, 2019, p. 1A

5. "Diamond Jo Makes Big Labor Harvest Donation," Telegraph Herald, September 2, 2013, p. 3

6. Irvine

7. Irvine, Joshua, "Labor Harvest to Halt Free Food Deliveries," Telegraph Herald, September 24, 2022, p. 1A

8. Irvine, Joshua, "Nonprofit to Act as Pantry Hotline," Telegraph Herald, September 28 2022, p. 1A