DMARC Food Pantry Network Breaks March, April records

A year after a massive reduction in public benefits end in Iowa, disturbing trends loom for food insecurity

The DMARC Food Pantry Network set a new record for the number of people assisted in the month of March, reaching 19,410 unique individuals seeking out food assistance.  A March record was also set with 1,456 first-time visitors utilizing the DMARC Food Panty Network.

These records highlight a disturbing trend that is continuing into this month.  On April 4 , 1,562 unique individuals received food assistance, becoming the second highest single day ever in the 47-year history of the DMARC Food Pantry Network. This was just short of previous single-day record set on Jan. 3, 2023 and followed the 4th busiest day on record on April 3.

“What we are seeing should shock people,” said DMARC CEO Matt Unger. “This is really the first time since the onset of the pandemic where we can compare apples to apples in the post-pandemic benefits era.”

Maximum benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – formerly known as food stamps) expired in March 2022. For many SNAP recipients this meant their monthly allotments decreased from $250/month to as low as $23/month.

Since maximum SNAP benefits expired in March 2022, food pantries have been on their heels with record and near record levels of visitors. DMARC saw all-time records set in August 2022 and the number of visitors continues to maintain at or above pre-pandemic levels since.

“Food banks and pantries across the state are already being overwhelmed. Now is absolutely the wrong time to make access to SNAP more difficult to Iowans seeking out help,” said Unger.

Several DMARC partner food pantries are being challenged in 2023

More people are utilizing pantries for the first time and making more frequent visits. In March 2023, the Catholic Charities Outreach Center saw 8994 individuals seek out daily ‘AnyTime’ items to supplement what they are receiving through their regular monthly supply.

Unfortunately we aren’t going out of business any time soon! What used to be considered a busy day in 2021 has been a slow day in 2023! While the weather in January-March slows people down a bit, we are still seeing many new families each week. We had 10 new families one Saturday this month alone and we are seeing more families 2, 3, 4 or more times a month. People are needing to come more often to fill gaps on their shelves, and we have had to create new limits on our AnyTime foods due to the increase in daily traffic.

People are struggling with rent, utilities, medical expenses, and we hear those stories every day… Stories like:

  • Seniors whose rent has gone up $200/month on their fixed income, and they have no idea how they will cover that.
  • A family of 6 choosing to abandon their only car, as the repairs are more than they can cover, and public transportation becomes the only option. Dad spends 75 minutes one way getting to and then from work each day.
  • A single mom of 3 with 2 in school and one in daycare, who was able to secure a great promotion, but lost her child care assistance because of it, and now cannot find anyone to care for her 2 yr old as the raise doesn’t come close to covering the gap created.

These stories have become more frustrating and more heartbreaking, listening is all we can do… no one deserves to struggle like this. I don’t like to make predictions anymore, but unfortunately I think this summer is going to be tough for a lot of our families, and we will see more of the same in the next quarter.

Andrea Cook
Program Director, Johnston Partnership Place

The DMARC-ket Southside Food Pantry saw its two busiest days ever in April. In February, the Urbandale Food Pantry saw a 67.9% increase compared to the same time period in 2022 and March saw a 51.4 percent increase.

The Urbandale Food Pantry is serving more visitors than ever before. In August alone, 3,495 individuals from 1,532 families visited the pantry. More so, we are welcoming more new families than ever before with an average of over 140 new families each month. Complicating our ability to serve the increased numbers of visitors are the high costs of food and decreases in the volume of food donated by local restaurants, grocery stores and cafes.We simply cannot do the work we do without the steadfast dedication of our staff, and volunteers. But community support is vital, too. People can help in several ways, from donating money to volunteering at the pantry to hosting food and personal item drives. Reach out to your local food pantry today and learn about opportunities.

Patty Sneddon-Kisting
Executive Director, Urbandale Food Pantry.

Proposed legislation could add fuel to the fire…

SF 494, a bill that has already passed through several hurdles, will likely create another dramatic increase in the number of Iowans seeking out food assistance.  SF 494 introduces greater administrative hurdles that will ultimately remove an estimated 2,800 Iowans from SNAP and other public assistance programs.

Tuesday’s public hearing at the Iowa State Capital for SF 494 saw members of the community share concerns over the number of veterans, disabled individuals, and children who would be disproportionately affected by this bill.

Tuesday’s public hearing at the Iowa State Capital for SF 494 saw members of the community share concerns over the number of veterans, disabled individuals, and children who would be disproportionately affected by this bill. Under the new law, families and individuals would have to prove their net worth in assets is less than $15,000.

The additional verification procedures in the bill will add additional hoops to jump through that will disincentive many from staying on the program. Monthly benefits for those at 120-160 percent of the federal poverty level often only amount to no more than the cost of a tank of gas.

SNAP enrollment is currently at a 14-year low and the number of cases involving fraudulent enrollment remains at just a fraction of a percent. The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency estimates the proposed legislation is not expected to save the state of Iowa any significant amount around the SNAP program.

“If more people lose access to SNAP as a result of this bill, food pantries will see the effects of this bill downstream,” Said Unger.  “We can point to what we saw in 2022 as proof. Pantries across the state will need additional support to offset this undue burden.”


About the Des Moines Area Religious Council:

The Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) is an interfaith organization with a mission of working together to meet basic human needs for the greater Des Moines community.

The DMARC Food Pantry Network consists of 15 partner pantry sites, multiple Mobile Food Pantry locations, and a home delivery program. The DMARC Food Pantry Network is committed to providing healthy food options and fresh produce to the people we assist. Once per calendar month, people can select a three-day supply of food from any one of our partner food pantries, and AnyTime Items are available whenever our partner pantries are open. Last year DMARC celebrated its 70th anniversary, assisting over 53,000 unique individuals living with food insecurity in Greater Des Moines.

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