DMARC Sees More of the New, Less of the Same at Food Pantries in April

In April, the DMARC Food Pantry Network assisted 12,091 unique individuals, with nearly 1,500 of those people using a DMARC food pantry for the first time ever. DMARC mobile food pantries assisted over 2,000 individuals with another 10,000 individuals assisted through DMARC’s network of partner pantries.

Despite increases in first-time food pantry users and visitors to mobile food pantry locations, DMARC saw just two-thirds the amount of people visit food pantries than do in a typical month. Nearly 4,000 people used a DMARC food pantry in January, February, and March, but did not do so in April.

DMARC notes a number of factors contributing to the slower month at food pantries, including people staying at home, additional food resources available in the community, increases to Food Assistance (SNAP) benefits, and people receiving their Economic Impact Payments.

“We have seen a lot of great food relief efforts by private companies, faith communities, nonprofit organizations and others spring up,” said Matt Unger, DMARC CEO. “And I think we have also seen evidence of the impact made by removing barriers to the Food Assistance program and increasing benefit amounts for many Iowans.”

In April, DMARC saw a noticeable decrease in the amount of food pantry users who were receiving Food Assistance, with only 43% of pantry users enrolled in the program.

“The last time DMARC saw a drop in food pantry use was in January 2019, during the federal government shutdown, when Food Assistance benefits for February were sent out early in January,” said Unger. “That month, as people had more benefits, we saw a decrease at food pantries, only to see a big jump in food pantry use in February as those benefits ran out. So while it is encouraging to see these temporary measures are helping those living with food insecurity, we are concerned about what will happen when they expire.”

DMARC also saw a higher rate of people at food pantries reporting they were unemployed and an increase in Hispanic/Latinx people assisted in April.

“We have also heard from some regular food pantry users that they are forgoing using the pantry or taking less food because they do not want anyone else to go without,” said Unger. “We appreciate the sentiment but want everyone to know that DMARC’s food supply is sound and if you need food, we are here to help. We have adapted our distribution models to ensure your safety as you visit a food pantry or request a food delivery.”

Since the pandemic began, DMARC and partner food pantries have implemented alternative food pantry procedures to ensure the safety of staff, volunteers, and people who visit food pantries, such as call-ahead ordering, curbside pick-up, and a food pantry delivery service. DMARC has been successful in maintaining its food supply during the pandemic, but much of the food it purchases has increased in cost due to high demand.

“It’s important to remember that we were seeing double-digit increases in food pantry use before the pandemic began,” said Unger. “We remain ready to meet the need, and anticipate that once some of these additional resources are no longer available, we will see large increases in use throughout the DMARC Food Pantry Network for the extended future. DMARC will continue to rely on our generous community to meet that need.”

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