From farm to Food Pantry

The Des Moines Downtown Farmers’ Market presented by UnityPoint Health – Des Moines has become a staple of Iowa food, arts, and culture since its humble beginnings decades ago. With thousands of market-goers and hundreds of vendors…have you ever wondered what happens to the food that doesn’t get purchased?

The ‘Meals From the Market’ program aims to address that very question. The Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) Food Pantry Network partners with the market to ensure that food that is safe to eat makes it to people facing food insecurity in our neck of the woods. Just this year the program has provided 31,010 lbs of food donations.

“Over the course of a year, Food Pantry Network works to distribute over 1,000,000 lbs of fresh produce to individuals and families at food pantry sites across the Des Moines Metro,” said Matt Unger, DMARC CEO. “This program allows food pantry visitors to eat the rainbow by providing more fruit and vegetable options at our pantry site through food rescue.”

Food is ‘rescued’ by volunteers who canvass The Market, asking vendors if they would like to donate any produce that goes unsold. At the end of The Market, volunteers then collect and load donated produce into a truck, and it is distributed throughout the DMARC Food Pantry Network in the days that follow.

Since 2011, Meals from The Market has contributed more than 376,000 pounds of fresh local food to people experiencing hunger and food insecurity in Greater Des Moines.

The partnership started in 2009, in response to requests from vendors who were looking for outlets for unsold food and products. It has continued now for 15 years thanks to the support of sponsors like First Interstate Bank and the efforts of hundreds of volunteers every weekend.


When visiting one of the 14 different food pantry locations in the DMARC Food Pantry Network, shoppers will find a selection of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables on any given day. Pantry visitors are able to shop for items that fit their dietary needs and preferences.

Donated produce from the market helps offer a wider selection of healthy items at a time when more people are utilizing pantries than ever before. From July 2022 to June 2023, DMARC assisted 59,844 unique individuals through the food pantry network. That includes about 1 in 5 people living in the city of Des Moines.

This year, DMARC is on track to surpass that record and about 20% of the food provided comes from food rescue efforts like ‘Meals from the Market’.

Many of the people being assisted by the DMARC Food Pantry Network are seeking a temporary lift during a difficult time and this has rang especially true in the past year as record inflation has caused the cost of food to rise substantially. About 1 in 3 people coming to a DMARC Pantry are doing so for the first time ever. About 49 percent of those utilizing a pantry will only do so once or twice in a year.

“This past year has caused a lot of frustrations for people at the heart of this issue – many of which are our neighbors, our family, and our friends,” said Unger. “As we approach what might be our busiest holiday season ever, more folks are struggling to afford food than just a year or two ago.”

Want to support the work being done to combat food insecurity in DSM? Donating food, funds, and time are the easiest ways to make a difference.

Volunteers are greatly needed this holiday season at the DMARC Southside Food Pantry (100 Army Post Rd.) to help visitors navigate the shopping experience. Volunteer as a group (2-6) or individual for 2.5 hours anytime 9 to 5 p.m. from Monday to Friday. Your monetary donation can also make a huge impact right now. DMARC can purchase 6x more food than individuals by purchasing in bulk through our warehouse operations.



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