Partner Profile: Johnston Partnership Place

This year, the Johnston Partnership will celebrate their 20th anniversary as a nonprofit organization. But it was only a few months ago that the organization moved into building space that was specifically designed for their needs. The new space, which officially opened on September 29, 2020, is almost exactly twice as large as the previous space, with two doors to the outside rather than one.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, visitors to the food pantry at Johnston Partnership Place place food orders from outside the building. The food pantry is also delivering food pantry orders to people who can’t safely make it out of their home. Johnston Partnership Place has masks, social distancing, cleaning procedures, and other precautions in place to help ensure the health and safety of pantry visitors, staff, and volunteers.

“We’re just trying to make sure we can stay open and not lose any service,” said Andrea Cook, Program Director at the Johnston Partnership.

Visitors to the food pantry at Johnston Partnership Place can select a three-day supply of nutritious food once per calendar month, which is guaranteed at all DMARC partner food pantries. People can also come get food every day the food pantry is open, though this daily food can vary based on what’s currently available.

In addition to the food received by DMARC free of charge, the food pantry obtains food from Food Bank of Iowa and receives food rescue from Kum n’ Go, Panera Bread, and other businesses thanks to a partnership with Eat Greater Des Moines. During the summer months, the food pantry also benefits from donated garden produce from individual and church gardens in the area.

Beyond its food pantry operations, the Johnston Partnership also has a clothing closet, holiday gift program, and partners with the Johnston Public School District on a mentoring program for secondary level students, assists with summer school lunch distribution, and runs a weekend backpack program that serves about 350 students every week.

Since the pandemic began, many new faces have visited Johnston Partnership Place. When people show up to the building, it’s often not clear if they are there to use the food pantry or to make a donation.

“People expect poverty to look so much different,” said Cook. “Our pantry users are school district employees, they’re the people who serve you at the grocery store and at restaurants, they’re meat packing workers, health care workers, people who work at banks and offices and are holding down multiple jobs. Our food pantry visitors look just like anyone else.”

To Cook, the solution to ending food insecurity in Johnston and the greater Des Moines community goes beyond donating and volunteering, and requires us all to step back and take a hard look of what poverty looks like in our community, the systems in place that prevent progress, and how we treat each other.

“We want to be out of business. We want food insecurity to go away,” said Cook. “The system has been broken for a long time. I think there needs to be a different mindset around the way we treat people and what the value of our humanity is. There’s a value to work, but there’s also a value to just being a human being and being able to have dignity and survive and live.”

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