Driving change through Food Rescue

For Joan Habel the sound of the DMARC truck backing up to the dock is always a highlight of the week. With 31 years of management experience at the Windsor Heights Sam’s Club, Habel finds that by building relationships with organizations like DMARC can make all the difference for community members seeking out help.

“We have a lot of customers and a lot of damages. Rather than throwing the damaged items in to the landfill, we donate them,” Said Habel. “Everyone we’ve met with DMARC is just so pleasant to work with. They make it easy.”

DMARC is one of many organizations working with stores across the Des Moines metro to ensure that food safely finds its way to people in need through the practice of food rescue.

Food Rescue, or food recovery, is a widespread practice across the country, but for DMARC it is a tool for providing healthy and cost prohibitive options at our pantry sites. Every year, over 4 million pounds of food is distributed through the DMARC Food Pantry Network and approximately one third of those food items are acquired through food rescue.

Food rescue items have typically been rejected by a retailer like convenience stores, grocery stores and warehouse operations but items are still usable and safe to eat. Often times this is something as small as a bump or bruise on a piece of produce.

“Food rescue allows our pantry visitors to to eat the rainbow,” said DMARC Food Pantry Network Director Rebecca Whitlow. “Food Rescue can allow us to provide those items to individuals who might not have been able to afford them in the grocery store.”

For much of the last decade, DMARC has made a strategic commitment to expanding choice for pantry visitors and working to make the healthy choice, also, the easy choice. Expanding food recovery relationships with area retailers and wholesalers has helped to make this possible.

Partnering with Eat Greater Des Moines on large donations, helps us support a network of over 200 anti-hunger organizations in Central Iowa that include food pantries, nonprofits, daycares, schools, apartment complexes, churches, libraries, and community fridges.

Partnerships with key stakeholders like Capital City Fruits, the Downtown Farmer’s Market, and retailers like Sam’s Club, Walmart, and Costco have been key in expanding choice at the pantry level.



“Food rescue is all about relationships,” said Whitlow, who has spent the past 11 years growing the DMARC Food Pantry Network’s purchasing power.  “It’s estimated that over a million pounds of food goes to landfills (in the Des Moines area) each year. As our numbers grow, that food is needed.”

As DMARC works to meet the growing need, collaboration becomes an active part of the job. The new agreements announced with the Food Bank of Iowa in February 2023 are allowing DMARC to pick up and distribute food to any pantry in the network from select Feeding America partners. DMARC also regularly partners with other food pantries outside of our network and food rescue agencies to help move large donations to Iowans safely and equitably.

With the opening of the new DMARC Headquarters at 100 Army Post Rd., our ability to rescue large donations has grown exponentially.  Previously our warehouse spaces only accommodated six pallets of frozen food and now 40-50 pallets can be stored safely. In the past, DMARC would have to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that large food donations didn’t go to waste. Now we can unload semi loads of items like milk, meat or produce as opposed to a few pallets.

For Whitlow, the work is not done as DMARC continues to build new relationships each day to with existing and new partners.

“There’s potential for a lot more rescue in the community than what is currently happening especially when it comes to things like prepared foods and meat cases at the grocery store.  There’s no reason that edible food should go to the landfill,” Said Whitlow.

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