“Look for the helpers”—Year in Review at Eat Greater Des Moines

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A note from Executive Director Aubrey Alvarez: “2020…what a year! While there has been so much sadness and loss, we’ve also seen how communities come together to support each other. The increase and diversity of partnerships we have made over the year speak to the power of community in addressing needs and meeting people where they are. My hope is that we all continue to look around our community and, as Mr. Rodgers says, “look for the helpers”. Daycare providers, faith organizations, youth programming organizations, refugee & immigrant serving groups, and many others not part of the “emergency food system” have stepped up and stepped in to help their community. My hope is those partnerships continue and expand as we work to redefine what makes a successful food system.”

Food Rescue

In 2018 EGDM launched the food rescue transportation program. Since then, the program has grown immensely and surpassed many milestones. In March, the food rescue program was operated by contracted drivers from Wesley Life Meals on Wheels who drive routes 3 days a week before their shift, taking many employees from part-time to full-time.

When COVID-19 hit, the Wesley Life drivers were needed back as Meals On Wheels drivers to fill the rising demand for home delivery for homebound seniors. As a result, we shifted and began to hire contract drivers directly, many who had been furloughed or laid off due to the pandemic. Throughout 2020 we employed ten new food rescue drivers. Three days a week, these paid drivers pick up food from 35 different Kum & Go stores and deliver it to several community partners. We work with nontraditional partners like schools, affordable housing communities, libraries, healthcare clinics, and many others to expand access to quality food.

Thanks to the help of community connections, we expanded our food rescue program to new food retailers—three metro Starbucks and Auntie Anne’s.

Equitable access to food is a pillar of our work. Just within this past month we  have partnered with Sweet Tooth Community Fridge to drop off rescued food items three times a week. This project is the first of it’s kind in the metro area. EGDM hopes to continue to support and grow initiatives like this one in the coming year.

Since 2018, we’ve worked with over 50 different community organizations. In this year alone, 227,965 lbs. of food were rescued from Kum & Go stores as well as several other establishments and delivered to organizations all over the Des Moines metro area. That’s almost 190,000 meals diverted from the landfill! As we work to expand the program, help us continue to make connections with local retailers to expand our food rescue service that makes rescuing food, safe and reliable.

Operation Fresh Produce Drop

Operation Fresh Produce Drop started in response to the strains put on our food system due to unexpected closures and an increase in need for food. This initiative began in April as a way to help move excess bulk products from wholesale distributors while also supporting organizations affected by the pandemic.

This evolved into distributing over 3,500 boxes of produce and dairy a week through the USDA Farm to Families food box program. Fresh, healthy food has been distributed to over 80 different local organizations—churches, refugee & Immigrant serving organizations, youth programs, affordable housing communities, in-home daycare centers that cannot access emergency food resources due to existing structures.

Since the beginning of May, 1,231,547 pounds of food has been moved, bringing 1,026,289 meals to central Iowa. Over 100 volunteers have helped make this happen, and as a collective, over 1,000 volunteer hours have been spent manually unloading, moving, and reloading to get these boxes to receiving organizations.

We are grateful to have built such a great volunteer network full of so many hardworking people through this initiative and to have met so many increbily hardworking groups going the extra mile to feed their communities during this time. 

Although it isn’t clear yet what will happen to the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program after the new year, EGDM is committed to ensuring this food gets to all organizations who can use it and who don’t usually have access emergency food resources.

Gleaning

Expanding on successful food rescue partnerships, EGDM has continued to build a local gleaning network since our first gleaning efforts in 2019. Through EGDM’s logistical management and connections, local farmers and property owners can have locally grown produce safely harvested and distributed into the community. During these gleaning efforts, volunteer “gleaners” head to the field and spend the day harvesting, sorting, and packaging the fruits or vegetables.

This year we had volunteers join us for 4 different gleaning operations, where 5,050 pounds of fresh produce was harvested. We used the gleaned fruits and vegetables to supplement our food rescue transportation program and Operation Fresh Produce Drop. We are excited to have a Gleaning Coordinator join our team in January as part of the Iowa Gleaning Network to expand gleaning operations in 2021.

Garden Support

In 2020, EGDM was happy to support over 25 local gardens in the Des Moines area. Throughout the garden season, various school, corporate, faith-based, and community gardens tracked their production. These 25 gardens collectively donated 40,506 pounds of fresh produce, and garden volunteers worked a total of 6,175 hours. We also continued our garden signage project in 2020 to help spread awareness of community gardens. We provided 4 gardens with free signs and helped Waukee Community school district design and get signs for their 16 school-based gardens. In 2021, we look forward to seeing how we can best help support this great network of gardens in central Iowa.

Double Up Food Bucks

The Double Up Food Bucks Program, managed by Iowa Healthiest State Initiative, expanded dramatically in 2020. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa Healthiest State received $1 million in CARES Act Funding to invest in the program.

With this funding, DUFB was able to expand into over 100 new grocery stores, in addition to food co-ops and farmer’s markets. Iowa Healthiest State Initiative estimates a $1.73 million-dollar impact since it began in 2016. The program is looking to expand even further in 2021 to help create jobs, keep dollars in Iowa, and allow people access to healthier food.

Support Our Work

We can build a system that meets the needs of all everyone in our community. Let’s do it together. Become a donor today!

Joie Probst

Joie Probst

Communications & Outreach Manager