It’s Time to Diversify Our Investments Combating Food Insecurity

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2020 gave us all the opportunity to try things we’ve never done – some good, some bad. COVID has turned the societal cracks millions have fallen into, into gaping valley’s where many are now trapped, due to job loss and stagnate wages not meeting the rising costs of housing, medical care, food, and childcare. 

Food banks and food pantries have done, and will continue to, provide millions of pounds of food to communities, however, it is not fair to expect them to solve food insecurity on their own. Over the past 8 months, we’ve seen 100’s of groups raise their own funds, find volunteers, find food and other resources, and put in the physical work to serve over 18,000 people weekly. 

While 2020 brought a lot of disaster, it has also shown how resilient, innovative, and committed our community can be. New community refrigerators, daycares providing supplemental food to families, and churches starting drive-thru food distributions, are just a few samples of the secondary network of support being built on the fly as we all struggle to cope with pandemic. More examples include:

  • + Nonprofit organizations like Al Exito, EveryStep, Genesis Youth Foundation, and ArtForce Iowa getting USDA food boxes to distribute to their clients.
  • + Daycares, like Lil Scholars, The Learning Zone, and The Children’s Jungle providing supplemental food to their families.
  • + Churches, like Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal M. I. Casa del Alfarero in Des Moines and Iglesia Pentecostal Cristo Viene Manos in Perry, coordinating weekly drive-thru distributions serving hundreds each week.
  • + Community members like Zuli Garcia and Alison Hoeman, organizing friends and colleagues to collect and distribute food, personal care items, clothing and rental support regularly to immigrant and refugee populations. Knock & Drop and Des Moines Refugee Support are now nonprofit organizations that continue to grow and serve their community.

Operation Fresh Produce Drop has been a labor of love for the small EGDM team – at most, 3 full-time staff – and the organizations distributing the food boxes. With no warehouse or equipment of our own, EGDM has worked with multiple partners since the Farmers to Families Food Box program started in April to move almost 50,000 boxes to over 100 unique organizations throughout central Iowa.

This secondary network of support has been built on the fly to supplement the traditional emergency food system as we all struggle to cope with the current crisis. Groups renting Uhauls and refrigerated trucks to pick up boxes, organizations sending multiple staff members to pick up 5-6 boxes each to then deliver to families,  and pantry leaders lining up 6 different volunteers with large trucks to travel to DMPS weekly to pick up their supply of boxes. Let’s take the time to recognize the value these groups are providing communities large and small to fill the gaping holes that have swallowed individuals, families, and seniors.   

When talking about the traditional emergency food system, we mean food banks, food pantries, congregate meal sites, and shelters. These entities have been critical in meeting food needs for many years. We can continue to support this network, while also recognizing the gaps still remaining that are being filled by non-traditional organizations in every community. It’s time to look at diversifying where and how resources are being invested to increase food access.

Of the over 100 new community partners EGDM has been serving weekly through OPFD. 80% are not Food Bank of Iowa partners. That means they are not able to purchase food at a deep discount through Food Bank of Iowa or another Feeding America food bank. As a large organization, which is part of a larger national network, FBOI has developed standards for organizations to be official partners. Many of these organizations do not meet the standards. Many of these organizations do not meet the standards set by the FBOI to be a partner agency. Food Bank of Iowa’s Partner Agency Pre-Application Checklist includes a checklist of minimum requirements an agency must meet to be considered for membership as a partner agency with the Food Bank of Iowa. These include:

  • + You are a 501(c)3 non-profit organization or a church located in the Food Bank of Iowa’s 55 county service area.
  • + Your organization has been in operation a minimum of 90 days with an ongoing food program.
  • + You are providing service to 51%+ financially needy clients and an underserved population.
  • + You will use the donated product only as related to your agency’s purpose of serving the ill, needy or infants (minor children).
  • + You have a location at your facility that includes proper and adequate physical storage/preparation/distribution space not located in a personal residence.
  • + Your agency operates for distribution/meals a minimum of twice per month for a minimum of two hours per distribution/meal.
  • + Your agency has established criteria for the individuals you serve that are consistent and posted at your pantry/feeding site. This must include distribution of USDA commodities to households (not exceeding) 185% of the federal poverty level.
  • + You have personnel/volunteers who are accountable for record keeping, inventory control and a system for keeping track of and entering statistics.
  • + You have the ability and willingness to access and submit information via the internet.
  • + You will agree to pay handling fees listed on the product inventory invoice.
  • + You will adhere to food safety guidelines and complete Food Safety Training.
  • + Your staff, visitors, and clients who qualify will receive food free of charge with absolutely no conditions levied, implied, or exchanged.
  • + You will order and distribute a minimum of 2,000 lbs. per fiscal year (FYI, according to USDA, 1 meal = 1.2 pounds of food).
  • + You will pass a site inspection prior to membership and allow for appropriate on-going monitoring by Food Bank of Iowa representatives.
  • + Your agency will use the Food Bank of Iowa at least once every six months.
  • + You have sufficient transportation to pick up your orders.
  • + You have sufficient funding sources to cover expenses

Think of what we could achieve if we started to recognize new locations and methods for getting food to people all throughout the state. For 2021, let’s recognize ALL the various groups that have stepped up to meet the needs of their community and ensure they have the resources to continue.  

Aubrey Alvarez

Aubrey Alvarez

Executive Director