Libraries have long been hubs of community engagement and education. They are free, accessible to all, and open most days of the week making them the ideal location for expanding food access.
On March 2nd, 2020 Eat Greater Des Moines launched a new food rescue program at the Perry Public Library. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, fresh and prepared foods from two local grocers will be picked up and brought back to the main lobby where a new refrigerator will be stocked for anyone to access it.
“Being able to put healthy snacks or food in places where people already gather is so important to breaking down barriers to accessing food” said Steven Williams, EGDM Operations Manager. “It brings dignity back to those who may be struggling.”
With a grant from the Telligen and in collaboration with Dallas County Health Department, Perry Public Library connected with Eat Greater Des Moines to see how we could collaborate to bring food rescue to Perry.
After a community assessment EGDM found that current food rescue efforts in Perry were minimal, with one grocer donating bread to a local pantry. EGDM sat down with local grocers in the area to collaborate on how to best partner to get more of their healthy produce and prepared foods to the library.
This new model will be a satellite of Eat Greater Des Moines’s already successful transportation program in the metro. Three days a week, Eat Greater Des Moines pays five Wesley Life Meals on Wheels drivers and one driver from Iowa Brew Tours to pick-up excess ready-to-eat foods from 33 Kum & Go convenient stores and delivers that food to various partners throughout the city.
In Perry, EGDM trained and will cover the costs for a library employee to pick up and deliver the rescued food three times a week. This helps provide the consistent and reliable transportation necessary to make food rescue successful.
“’I’m excited to show what success looks like when you are able to think outside the box,” said Williams. “It’s fun to be innovative and try something new that can easily be replicated in other communities using resources they already have.”
EGDM helped supply Perry Public Library with a new refrigerator to get the program started.
“Originally it was going to be a regular refrigerator similar to the ones we’ve delivered to partners in the past, “said Williams. “However, we’ve learned that a classic refrigerator isn’t inviting and people may not be aware that there is food in there for anyone to eat.
Through the power of community, EGDM put a call out to see if anyone had a lead on a glass front refrigerator. Sure enough, Jenny Quiner of DogPatch Urban Garden was looking to sell one she had been using at her farm stand.
The day EGDM delivered the new refrigerator, Perry Public Works and Parks & Recreation came over to the library to help move it to its new home.
“They asked if it was really free for anyone,” said Williams. “I told them if you need to access some food you are more than welcome to stop by and grab an apple or a banana. This is perfectly edible food that would otherwise be thrown away.”
Perry is a relatively small town with a population around 7,000 people, but there is a lot of momentum around building a healthier community.
This new food rescue model is just the beginning. EGDM hopes this successful partnership helps highlight the importance of collaboration and inspires other communities to think outside the box of where food is and where is can go.