Nov 7, 2022 - News

Des Moines nonprofits say Food Bank of Iowa is hurting their operations

Illustration of a slice of bread with peanut butter in the shape of a worried face

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Some Des Moines-area pantries say they could struggle to meet demand this winter after being given a cease and desist email by the Food Bank of Iowa telling them to stop picking up leftovers from retailers in the area.

Flashback: The move comes after several nonprofits declined to sign a contract addendum with the Food Bank of Iowa in September that would have required them to provide more food to people in need than they say they're capable of giving.

  • Nonprofits had about two weeks to sign the contract, according to an email to the pantries obtained by Axios. The pantries say the new requirements would have suddenly placed them in a situation they had not budgeted for.
  • Organizations that declined to sign the contract include the Salvation Army, Des Moines Area Religious Council and IMPACT Community Action.

How it works: The Food Bank of Iowa is a subsidiary of Feeding America, which partners with large chain retailers to let pantries it affiliates with pick up leftover food and goods.

  • For at least a decade, the Salvation Army has rescued food and household items like detergent from metro stores like Target, Aldi and Costco, equating to 250-500 items a day, per Major Butch Frost of the Salvation Army.

DMARC used to rescue food from Walmart and Sam's Club, but because 11 of its pantries didn't sign the contract, they were given a cease and desist, said Luke Elzinga, spokesperson for DMARC.

  • Elzinga said he's worried food won't be rescued and distributed at the same levels.

What they’re saying: Losing access to the retailers will be a “major financial burden” when record-breaking need for food is compounding the busy winter months, said Frost.

  • “It's heartbreaking that there couldn't be more time given and that we could not sit down at the table and really talk this through,” Frost said.

The other side: It's the Food Bank of Iowa's "obligation" to ensure the retailers’ leftover food doesn't go to waste, said spokesperson Annette Hacker in an email. Hacker said they have matched Food Bank of Iowa partners who did sign the contract with the retailers.

  • When asked if there was any wiggle room to give the nonprofits that didn't sign more time to adjust to the contract's terms, Food Bank of Iowa CEO Michelle Book replied "all partners are held to the same standard," in an email.
  • Book noted the Food Bank of Iowa still works with 700 other partners who signed the contract.
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