As a mom of a kindergartener, navigating this school year has been interesting, to say the least. As school was getting started, I read an article that discussed our approach to kids going back to school. The author showed how shifting our thinking from an either/or mindset to both/and will be critical as we navigate the next few months and years. This approach has stuck with me as we discuss what is needed as we work to rebuild our food system.
When we talk about hunger and how to address it, we often think of one model for reaching people who need food. The food bank model is effective in serving thousands of Central Iowans each year. Food banks purchase bulk food items and accept food donations which enables community food pantries to purchase that food at a deep discount. These food pantries then provide food to their community. But food pantries are not like grocery stores. They aren’t open 24/7. Some are open once a month, some once a week, and others try to open daily or on weekends. They do their best to meet the needs of their community with limited staff and budgets.
Even with these challenges, food pantries serve thousands of food insecure individuals and families daily. However, the responsibility of feeding everyone in our community shouldn’t be placed solely on food banks and food pantries. We have other opportunities to expand access to food outside of this system. With enough food already in this community and enough partners at the table, we don’t have to choose just one approach. If we take a “both/and” approach, we can make greater progress in connecting excess food with anyone who needs it.
Here are three ways of expanding our thinking on how to do this.
1.) We can serve people through food pantries AND provide other access points.
Only offering access to food through a food pantry limits our ability to address food insecurity by requiring those with limited time and resources to find and make time to fit into a system that can be complicated to navigate—especially for people who are new to the system and don’t know how it works. Food pantries play a critical role in addressing hunger by securing food and distributing it to those who are most in need. At the same time, we can expand people’s access to food in a way that is safe, simple, and equitable by putting food where people are already gathering. EGDM’s partnerships with affordable housing partners, libraries, churches, nonprofits and governmental agencies working outside of the hunger space have shown the value of new kinds of collaborations to best reach individuals.
2. We can serve those who are in need AND make food more accessible to everyone
Many of us have experienced generous co-workers or neighbors sharing extra food or garden produce. What stands out to me from these interactions is the ease and comfort of enjoying the food. Nothing was required or expected, other than to take and enjoy it. If anything, I was made to feel as if I was doing them a favor by not letting the food go to waste.
This is the feeling we want to replicate throughout our community by providing the equipment and support to safely offer food to whomever needs it within our partner organizations, institutions, and housing complexes. This also means not always having to determine who is in need but rather allowing our food ecosystem to expand in an organic way that allows excess food to go where it’s needed.
3. We can thank our businesses for financial support AND ask them to do more for the food system.
We can appreciate and recognize the immense financial and volunteer support our local grocery and convenience stores provide our community, AND we can expect them to value food as a resource and engage in building a better food system. Our retailer’s shared commitment to our community has created immense opportunity and impact in helping those in need, and there is more they could do to make sure their excess food is distributed instead of thrown away.
As one example, almost 100% of the nearly 2,800 grocery stores under the Kroger Co. umbrella participate in food recovery across all product lines. Not only are they ensuring the highest and best use of their food resources, they have taken their support a step further with their Zero Hunger Zero Waste Foundation.
How can I help?
We have an immense opportunity to ensure the food our state helps produce is consumed AND support our neighbors in a safe, efficient manner.
Look around your community.
- + Who is already supporting those teetering on the edge of food insecurity? How can we get them more resources, like food? Do they need help with equipment? Do they need help with transportation?
- + Where is food available? Ask your grocery or convenience store what their food recovery plan includes. If they have one, say THANK YOU! If they don’t, ask what they need to put one in place AND FOLLOW UP. They need to know you care and will be asking again. If they choose not to engage, take your shopping somewhere that does.
As we work on filling the gaps COVID-19 has exposed, let’s get creative in our solutions by shifting our thinking and approach to employ “both/and” solutions.
When you make a monthly gift to Eat Greater Des Moines, you are putting faith in our work to make this food system better for everyone. We can build a system that meets the needs of all sectors. Let’s do it together.