Iowa food pantries see high demand amid supply chain shortages

Bobby Chase’s income as a full-time cook at an Ames pizzeria forces him to choose between paying for groceries or renting for the month.

“There are places that don’t want to give hours or a salary that ensures people can pay their bills or for food,” Chase said.

Ames’ local food pantries help him solve this dilemma. One week a month, Chase visits several food banks in Ames to stock up on groceries. Even with the support, he still finds himself rationing his food and barely having enough to get through the month.

Chase is one of many Iowa workers who increasingly rely on food bank services to offset rising costs as Iowa food pantries experience an increase in services.

Most food bank recipients are employed

Des Moines Area Religious Council executive director Matt Unger said policymakers who try to frame high food insecurity as a labor issue are wrong. More than a third of the beneficiaries are not of working age. In May, 32% of council food aid went to children and 13% of beneficiaries were aged 65 or over. Meanwhile, only 16% of recipients in May were unemployed and Unger said some were working multiple jobs.

“There’s a lot of work to do beyond just looking at this and classifying it as a question of who is employed or not,” Unger said.

Every 10 minutes from 1 to 3 p.m., Ames Salvation Army serves families. Kathy Pinkerton, the service center coordinator, said appointments are filled daily, sometimes a day in advance.

“Not only are their food aid dollars not going as far, but they have a lot less,” Pinkerton said. “It takes time to work that into your budget.”

Demand increased after COVID aid ended

When maximum federal food assistance benefits returned to normal rates after the COVID-19 emergency declaration ended on April 1, food pantries in Iowa saw increased service counts. In April, the Des Moines Area Religious Council recorded an increase of more than 40% over the previous year and May achieved a 60% increase.

Unger said the pandemic has temporarily reduced the need for food bank services due to additional support such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, child tax credit and stimulus checks. .

“So a lot of people had more means than they ever had before and they didn’t need food aid as much because they actually had the money to get their own food,” Unger said.

Unger said he’s worried about what will happen this fall, when demand for the service usually increases. The highest service rate at the Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) was over 22,000 beneficiaries in November 2019.

This year, DMARC served over 15,400 people in May, up from 9,500 in May 2021. This month, the food bank served over 14,300 people, up from 10,700 in June 2021.

Melissa Jones works as a teaching assistant at Fellows Elementary School in Ames. Summer means she is temporarily unemployed. For the past three years, she has gone to the Ames Salvation Army. Food aid has helped Jones feed herself and her three children, especially during the summer when her children are out of school.

“The need is there and it is great. It’s just too many people who are in certain income brackets where they don’t get help from so many places because they don’t drop below a certain income threshold,” Jones said. . “They still need food because they have more expensive mortgages, more expensive car payments, but they still need help.”

Effects of supply chain shortage

Families can visit the Salvation Army food pantry once a month to pick up non-perishable items, but Pinkerton said she foresees the need to increase the limit if demand continues.

“We get a lot of calls from people saying ‘I really hope it’s been 30 days’ and it’s not,” Pinkerton said. “I think if someone tells me they’re hungry, they are.”

The Ames Salvation Army fills its shelves with food donations from community members as well as corporate contributions. (Photo by Kate Kealey/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Before increasing purchase limits, pantries must have enough food to meet demand. The Salvation Army Pantry in Ames has experienced a shortage of eggs due to the supply chain. The Salvation Army in Ames also provides eggs to nearby food pantries that are experiencing a shortage.

Meat is usually the most requested product. With more than 14 pantries to serve and 25 other mobile programs, Unger said it was becoming increasingly difficult to stockpile fill due to increased demand and price increases.

“One time we were able to get pounds of ground beef for the same price we would have paid for three five-ounce cans of chicken,” Unger said. “So to be able to get fresh ground beef for the same cost of 15 ounces of canned chicken was really unheard of before some of the things that were going on.”

Siouxland’s food bank also increases its stock in a recession, but executive director Jake Wanderscheid said food prices have risen 25% since the summer of 2020. In previous years before the pandemic, Siouxland had expected an average of $552,000 for food. For fiscal year 2022, the food bank is expected to spend $724,000.

“Our dollar just doesn’t go that far, but that’s really where we’re going to want to engage is making sure we have enough food on the floor for our agencies and our clients who need that food,” Wanderscheid said. “I think it will help by finding the sources of funding to increase the amount of food we have on the floor now so that the clients we are helping now may not be as desperately affected in the fall if there is has a recession.”

Much of the food donated to pantries comes from donations from individuals, businesses and retailers who have excess food. Wanderscheid expressed concern about the availability of food on the market.

“Right now there’s not a lot of excess in the system in our area, so it makes me nervous that we wouldn’t have enough food if we saw a huge increase in demand.”

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