Feeding Families Through the Schools

Writer: Hannah Soyer

For over 4,300 households in the Des Moines Public School District, a district partnership with Food Bank of Iowa to open food pantries within and near schools has provided much-needed support. From September 2021 through April 2022, over 80,400 meals were provided through the program to help bridge the food insecurity gap. 

In 2015, the first free pantry opened at Lincoln High School. East High quickly followed, and now there are 13 schools with pantries on-site; at press time, 10 more were expected to be added this coming school year. 

“With this level of collaboration, together we can make sure every child and each family member has access to the most essential basic need—food,” says Annette Hacker, communications manager at Food Bank of Iowa. 

Coordinators at each school oversee the pantries. They order food through the Food Bank on a weekly basis, and volunteers shelve the pantries. Students and their families can shop at their school’s pantry during open hours and can also set up after-hours visits. 

“All of our pantries are well utilized,” District Community School Coordinator Cara Edmondson says. “We look forward to rolling out new pantries soon.” 

When the pandemic hit, food insecurity in Iowa grew more than 50% (from 305,000 to 459,850 last year, according to the Feeding Iowans Task Force report) as people faced unemployment, supply shortages and distribution interruption. Seventy-five percent of DMPS students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, so lack of these essential school meals created additonal need. To alleviate this, the food pantry partnership opened nine off-site locations (in parking lots near schools), which continue to remain open to students and their families. 

The rate of Iowans lacking access to sufficient food has returned to 2019 numbers—but at 10% (or 300,000) of the people in the state, organizations addressing hunger say this is still unacceptable. In addition, rising inflation coupled with a decrease in Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) benefits is expected to drive pantry need—and use—up. While there are community resources that students and their families are referred to, the need for readily available food remains. 

To support the DMPS Pantry Program, give food (school pantries are always in need of protein), donate money, or volunteer at the Food Bank of Iowa. Donation and volunteer opportunities are also available through the schools. 

DMPS Pantries by the Numbers

Total pounds of food ordered between September 2021 and April 2022.

Meals provided through the Food Bank of Iowa to DMPS families.

Value of food provided to the school pantries.

On-site snacks served.

Number of individuals served through the 13 school pantries since last September.

Active DMPS School Pantries

Capitol View Elementary
King Elementary
Lovejoy Elementary
Madison Elementary
McKinley Elementary
Monroe Elementary
Moulton Elementary
Weeks Middle School
East High School
Lincoln High School
Central Campus

Iowa Stops Hunger is an ongoing Business Publications Corp. initiative to raise awareness of food insecurity in Iowa and inspire action to combat it.

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