April 9, 2021
Eat Greater Des Moines
Every Wednesday, hundreds of cars make their way through a winding line at the Des Moines Public Schools operations and maintenance building where they fill their trunks with boxes of fresh food.
Since November, EveryStep staff and volunteers have been in many of those vehicles, picking up boxes each week to feed nearly 170 families and individuals who participate in one of the organization's 1st Five, Connections, Senior Companion, Intake and Maternal Child Health programs.
Known as Operation Fresh Produce Drop, the distribution of fresh food boxes is part of the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box initiative, which was funded through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
As part of that Act, USDA is exercising authority to purchase and distribute agricultural products to those in need. The project is completed in phases, with the USDA awarding contracts to different product distributors.
These distributors package the fresh produce, meat and dairy products into family-sized boxes, then transport them to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other non-profits serving Americans in need.
In Des Moines, the program is managed by the non-profit group, Eat Greater Des Moines, which facilitates and builds connections to strengthen the food system in the Des Moines area. However, it doesn't directly provide food to individuals. Instead, it works with other non-profit organizations to do so.
"We had an opportunity where there is really good food available," said Aubery Alvarez, executive director of Eat Greater Des Moines. "Eat Greater Des Moines doesn't serve people but there are groups and organizations that could use the food for their clients."
Since the USDA program began in April, Eat Greater Des Moines has helped distribute more than 50,000 boxes over 100 organizations.
EveryStep is one of those organizations.
"We've been partners with Eat Greater Des Moines on a lot of different things," said Amber Schelling, EveryStep family support manager. "We’re really thankful for that. This food can be a big relief for clients. It can bridge the gap in assistance."
For instance, a family or individual who relies on their local food bank may be running short on food items before they are eligible to visit the food bank again. The Operation Fresh Produce Drop can be a buffer during that time, Schelling said.
"The boxes re going to those who have been identified with us, that are struggling with food insecurity or other financial hardships. We give them a call, and say we have a food box available if they are interested," she said.
In all, EveryStep receives 113 boxes, which are distributed to nearly 200 individuals and families.
While the boxes come assembled, EveryStep staff and volunteers may make modifications based on our clients’ needs. For example, Schelling said that much of the meat provided in the boxes is pork, but some families don't eat pork based on their culture. In that case, the products would be removed.
Additionally, many of the clients served by EveryStep’s Senior Companion program live alone, and would not be able to use all of the products available in the box before they go bad. In that case, the boxes may be split between a number of clients.
"The pandemic has been a challenging time to access food," Hannah Rivas, Senior Companion program manager said. "We've had a lot of families call in, looking for resources. This is an opportunity we can offer."
And so, each Wednesday, EveryStep staff and Senior Companion volunteers line up at the Des Moines Public School Operation Warehouse to pick up boxes.
After they drive through the warehouse, staff from EveryStep’s 1st Five, Intake, and Maternal Child Health programs meet to distribute boxes amongst their teams for delivery to their clients.
The staff members and volunteers then have two hours to deliver the boxes to maintain safe food safety standards. Drop-off for each box is arranged with the client prior to delivery, and all are managed in a contactless interaction.
The current round of food box distributions will continue through the end of March. At that time, the USDA will award another contract and Eat Greater Des Moines will continue to make sure those boxes are available to organizations like EveryStep.
To learn more about Eat Greater Des Moines and the Operation Fresh Produce Drop, check out their blog.