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Food Bank of Iowa opens first on-site food pantry

March 15, 2018 | Media Center, Press Releases

Des Moines, IA, March 15, 2018 – Food Bank of Iowa has opened its first-ever on-site food pantry. The new pantry, called Karen’s Cupboard, is designed to provide food directly to food insecure Iowans, especially those living in the vicinity of the Food Bank’s distribution center on Des Moines’ East Side.

Iowans in need can receive grocery products, fresh produce, bread, dairy, eggs, meat, and more at Karen’s Cupboard. The pantry is open each Tuesday from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., and is located in the Food Bank of Iowa’s distribution center at 2220 E. 17th Street, Des Moines, IA 50316. Karen’s Cupboard’s first distribution took place on Tuesday, February 27.

“More than 35 years ago, Food Bank of Iowa was founded with a strong spirit of service to our partner organizations that provide food directly to Iowans struggling with food insecurity,” said Michelle Book, president and CEO of Food Bank of Iowa. “Today, we have come full circle, adding an aspect of that direct service to our daily work. Our mission has always been the same, but the methods we use to fulfill that mission have grown.”

In addition to receiving food, guests can receive personal care items like toothpaste, antiperspirant, and feminine hygiene products, which they cannot pay for using government benefits. Staff members are cultivating relationships with other local resource providers to share information on valuable programs including SNAP (formerly food stamps) and WIC (women, infants, and children) during pantry distribution times.

Despite widespread economic recovery from the 2008 recession, many Iowans still struggle with poverty and food insecurity, which is the lack of access to enough food to lead a healthy, active life. According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap study, more than 12 percent of Polk County residents struggle with food insecurity, far outstripping the county’s 3 percent unemployment rate.

Food Bank of Iowa’s primary mission is to acquire millions of pounds of food products, and distribute those bulk products to smaller organizations, such as homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and food pantries. Prior to the opening of the on-site pantry, this bulk focus meant that Food Bank staff could only provide pre-packed emergency food boxes to guests who came to the distribution center.

“Karen’s Cupboard dramatically expands the quality, quantity, and choice of products that our guests can receive,” said Book. “The pantry’s evening hours are intended to allow our guests to visit the pantry after work. Every aspect of the pantry was thoughtfully designed by our team to meet the needs of our guests.”

In addition to serving an immediate need in the community, Karen’s Cupboard will serve as a training ground for Food Bank of Iowa staff, volunteers, and partners. New distribution techniques, technologies, and data methods will be piloted at Karen’s Cupboard before being shared with other partners.

“Karen’s Cupboard is a sort of pantry laboratory, where we will work to make sure we’re using the best methods to serve our guests,” said Book. “By better understanding the reality of operating a food pantry, we will be better prepared to serve our partners across Iowa and every food insecure Iowan.”

Karen’s Cupboard is named for Karen Ford, the founder of Food Bank of Iowa. Karen served as the Food Bank’s executive director from its founding in 1982 until her passing in 2008. Karen’s son, Tony Ford, currently works as a driver and warehouse worker at the Food Bank.

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Danny Akright |