From Emergency Gleaning to Food Rescue—The Importance of Connections in Times of Crisis

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Two weeks after a powerful derecho ripped through the state, downing powerlines, devastating crops, and leaving widespread damage in many communities Executive Director, Aubrey Alvarez reflects on the importance of neighbors helping neighbors, especially in times of crisis.


When I initially began writing this blog, it was to reflect on all the silver lining lessons we have learned in the past 5 months due to COVID. But after the devastating “land hurricane” on top of a global pandemic, I began to think about how integral connections have been for Eat Greater Des Moines over the years. Eat Greater Des Moines works to make sure that everyone in our community has access to good food. What does it really mean to build community through food? How does making “connections” have an impact in a community? While food is what brings us together, it’s the neighbors who drop everything to help you pick up the pieces and make sure you are okay, that make all the difference.

At Eat Greater Des Moines we do just that—we’re problem solvers. We use the connections we’ve built in the community to ensure that food isn’t wasted, that it gets to people in need, and that organizations doing great work within our food system are supported. But what does that look like?

In the week following the derecho it was all hands-on deck. From emergency gleaning to food rescue, our team jumped in to help in any way possible.

  • Gleaning pears from fallen tree: After the derecho, a pear tree located at Des Moines Public Schools FFA center fell and the fruit needed to be picked right away. Because we had just harvested peaches and apples a week before, they reached out to see if we could help them glean the fruit so it wouldn’t go to waste. We assembled a small group of volunteers and gleaned pears that we then distributed to organizations later in the week.
  • Cooler storage after to save food after storm: Iowa Food Cooperative emailed us trying to find help after their power went out. They had $35,000 worth of local product that they couldn’t let go to waste. We were able to connect with Peace Tree Brewing Co and Justice League of Food to help with cold storage so they could continue to get local farmers products to central Iowans.
  • WesleyLife , who we have partnered with in the past for our Food Recovery Transportation Program, lost power after the storm and had their Meals on Wheels food in a cooler. We called our contact at Loffredo Fresh Foods and they agreed to let them use a refrigerated truck so the food wouldn’t spoil.
  • Connecting local restaurant to free meals program: La Mie reached out after they had two kitchens shut down due to COVID and they were looking for a way to put more of their staff back to work. We connected with Melissa at Central Iowa Shelter and Services to get into their DSM Eats program, a partnership with the City of Des Moines that connects local restaurants and food trucks to help feed central Iowans throughout the summer.
  • Food rescue through ChowBank App: Our food rescue app, ChowBank, helps connect people with extra food to organizations who could use it to feed their clients. Iowa Events Center had their 1st wedding and ended up with lots of food leftover food from a fajita bar. We worked with their team to donate that food using our Chowbank app.
  • Corporate food rescue from closed office cafeteria: Sodexo reached out EGDM about having a ton of extra product they were looking to donate because they were shutting down three corporate cafeterias in light of the pandemic. We coordinated with Sodexo to get the extra product picked up thanks to Urbandale Community Action Network. We then reached out to our network of nonprofits, childcares, and religious organizations to get the product distributed. We were able to distribute 10,000 pounds of product plus extra bagged lunches from Taste! To Go Catering plus the gleaned pears from earlier in the week!

This is what we mean when we talk about connecting communities. Little actions like making a call to a brewery to see if they have free space in a cooler or organizing large scale food rescue, can create positive ripple effects in our community. Through continuing to build connections, growing trust, and being ready to jump in during times of crisis, Eat Greater Des Moines is dedicated to building a stronger more resilient food system.

How can I help?

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Emma Gellerstedt

Emma Gellerstedt

Communications Intern