Dec 7, 2022 - News

Food Bank of Iowa dispute results in crisis for families in need

Illustration of salad ingredients forming a frowny face on a plate.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

An ongoing contract dispute between the Food Bank of Iowa and 11 Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) food pantries is a crisis, West Des Moines City Councilman Doug Loots warned during a public meeting Monday night.

  • He called on the public and elected officials to demand a resolution.

Why it matters: Families in need are in the crosshairs.

  • Fresh food distribution by West Des Moines Human Services (WDMHS) an agency that has a partnership with DMARC plummeted since the contract impasse began Nov. 2.
  • It's a scenario that's being replicated across the metro, DMARC spokesman Luke Elzinga told Axios Tuesday.

Yes, and: Most of DMARC's pantries —including one affiliated with WDMHS — lost access to the Food Bank on Nov. 2, which forces them to buy items at higher costs from retailers.

Catch up fast: The food bank is like a nonprofit wholesale distributor that gives away or sells food at a reduced price to hundreds of charities across the state

  • Food bank officials standardized operating agreements in September to ensure that each pantry it works with offers recipients at least three days' supply of food a month.

Yes, but: The new contract would also allow recipients to visit each of DMARC's 15 food pantries each month rather than just one of them.

  • That's up to 45 days worth of food each month, which is not sustainable, Elzinga said.
  • The four DMARC food pantries that signed the agreement have had multiple visits from more than 1,500 families in November, he noted.
  • The food bank also served a cease and desist order to DMARC and other groups that declined to sign the contract. That requires them to stop picking up leftovers from retailers that have rescue agreements with them.

Of note: Perishable items collected from places like grocery stores are available daily as supplies last with no monthly limits to DMARC recipients.

Zoom in: The food rescue collected by WDMHS plummeted by almost 4,000 pounds in November.

  • And it no longer has access to USDA food commodities because of the severed contracts, noted Loots, who is also a WDMHS board member.
  • "I'm appalled that people whose mission it is to feed the hungry are willing to forgo that mission because of what amounts to a political spat," Loots said.

The other side: Food bank CEO Michelle Book told Axios Tuesday they have sent five emails to WDMHS asking for its partnership and have gotten no response.

  • The food bank continues to serve other WDM pantrie or school programs, Book said.

What's next: DMARC and food pantry officials are expected to meet next week, Elzinga said.

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