Pantries see an increased need as the holiday season begins

Food supplies in Iowa continue to see an increase in people in need of assistance. Officials say the demand for food aid has steadily increased, especially as economic factors such as inflation persist.

The Food Bank of Iowa reports that since the spring when supplemental SNAP benefits ended, the number of people served has increased.

“I think what we’re seeing today is an unprecedented need,” said Michelle Book, CEO of the Food Bank of Iowa. “In the 40 years that the Food Bank of Iowa has been serving food-insecure Iowaans, these past few months have been record-breaking for us. So May, June, July and August were all record-breaking months, with September, the last month available to us, being about the same.”

Including its partner organizations, Book said the food bank serves about 150,000 people a month.

Book said that at the same time that the additional SNAP benefits ended, higher gas and food prices hit, tightening budgets for Iowans.

But these prices also have an impact on food aid organizations.

Zuli Garcia is the founding president of Knock and Drop Iowa. It’s the first-ever Latino pantry on Metro Des Moines and features culture-specific fare. She said higher prices have affected their organization and recently they’ve had to dip into reserves to ensure families have enough to go.

“That’s our fear that we’re getting to the point where unfortunately we have to start telling people the reason why, because things are getting expensive, not just for everyone out there, but even for the nonprofits.” We can’t find the food we need to support families,” she said.

Garcia said that for just one day that the pantry was open, Knock and Drop spent $4,800 on groceries for 387 families.

“Every time the holidays come around, we go negative because we’re diving into funds that we haven’t received, that we don’t have,” Garcia said. “We’re just trying to make sure every single family has a great time.”

Garcia said while most people can have paid vacations this time of year, many of the families Knock and Drop serves are struggling with smaller paychecks when their workplaces close for the holidays, making budgets even tighter.

Matt Unger, the CEO of the Des Moines Area Religious Council, said while the pandemic-era support has helped financially for a time, it has not addressed underlying food insecurity issues.

“We’ve got this growth now and the number of people who need this type of help and we don’t have the same focus on the issue that we had during the pandemic,” he said. “So I think there’s a risk that we’re going to have some complacency… We still have a lot of work to do to solve some of these root problems that are driving people into food insecurity in the first place.”

So far this month, DMARC has helped 14,000 people, Unger said.

Unger said looking at what we’ve done well during the pandemic could help open conversations.

“Ultimately, the solution to food insecurity will not come from making food available to people,” he said. “We need to find the reasons why people are being pushed into food insecurity in the first place and the simplest thing to look at and point to is that people are not making enough money to pay for the cost of living today. And we need to do something to fix that.”