Mapping an End to Hunger in Greater Des Moines Phase II continues to build on findings from Phase I to expand dialog, research, planning and resources beyond the historic concept of providing hunger relief, in order to facilitate a systemic, community-based model that will end hunger and improve health in Greater Des Moines. Now entering its third year, the project is serving as a catalyst to improve the health of low-income families in Polk County, Iowa, through enhanced access to nutritionally adequate and affordable food.
Phase II Objectives and Activities
- Identify and integrate present knowledge and planning efforts about food and hunger in the Greater Des Moines community, as well as other promising models;
- Create a vision of a system that will serve the nutrition/health needs of all citizens/residents;
- Coordinate initial development of a local food policy council to be known as the Greater Des Moines Food Research and Action Council;
- Utilize small planning teams (pods) from many community sectors and career fields and invite assessment/analysis of food resources, gaps, barriers, programs and recommended strategies through use of different logic and problem-solving models; and
- Draft the inaugural “Greater Des Moines Hunger-Free Community Plan”.
Activities are focused in three major areas: 1) Nutrition Education/Outreach; 2) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Outreach and Enrollment; and 3) Formation and implementation of the Greater Des Moines Food Research and Action Council.
Dialog, research, planning and resources devoted to hunger relief and improving health in the Greater Des Moines community have been expanded. Collaborators in this effort include both traditional and non-traditional partners committed to working toward positive, systemic change in the food system. Partners that have been instrumental in the process are Healthy Polk 2020, Hormel Foods Corporation, Polk County Health Department, Primary Health Care, The Wellmark Foundation, Telligen Community Initiative, United Way of Central Iowa, Iowa State University Extension, Iowa Food Bank Association, and multiple service providers and stakeholders, including food pantry consumers.
The objective to identify and integrate present knowledge and planning efforts about food and hunger in the Greater Des Moines community is dynamic and ongoing.
Progress has been made toward creating a vision of a system that will serve the nutrition needs of all Polk County residents. Activities to date have included integration and leveraging of nutrition education outreach and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enrollment outreach in collaboration with health-focused community partners.
A series of food system “snapshots” have been designed to cultivate critical thinking and discussions with community leaders and professionals, and to provide the foundation for facilitation of the planning pods and processes referenced above. DMARC’s food system snapshot efforts include development of a series of visual aids and empirical data that highlight specific aspects of the food system in Polk County, both positive and negative.
Making a Difference in Greater Des Moines and Polk County, Iowa
The project has contributed to an increase in the number of Polk County residents who are receiving SNAP food assistance benefits. In just over a year of active DMARC SNAP enrollment outreach, the percentage of food pantry consumers self-reporting as receiving SNAP benefits has increased from about 57% of households to 63%. With over 13,000 families receiving food pantry services in 2011, this equates to an additional 780 families (or nearly 2,200 people) receiving much-needed supplemental nutrition assistance.
For the Greater Des Moines community, the value of 12 months of enhanced food assistance benefits resulting from the DMARC SNAP enrollment project is estimated at over $500,000.
DMARC’s Food System Snapshot efforts are helping to engage a variety of community audiences, funding partners, service providers, policy-makers and other stakeholders to think about, develop, and implement a comprehensive system by which food access is made possible and affordable for everyone in Polk County. Sample snapshots are:
- Polk County Café menu – This mock menu features food access and insecurity facts and a list of the food and nutrition assistance programs available in Polk County. The menu highlights the average benefit value of each program and the economic investment of food purchasing power of these programs.
- The Brutal Facts: Poverty, Diet Disease & Health Care Costs poster – The objective of this poster is to connect the health care costs among Polk County eaters to causal issues such as poverty, food access, diet and disease.
- The Promising Facts: Growing Food, health and Community poster – The objective of the poster is to highlight the positive activities, initiatives, and behaviors that impact individual, household and community food access and health in Polk County.
- FOODTOPIA! Growing a healthy, Sustainable Food System for All worksheet – This interactive worksheet describes the characteristics of a food system that delivers economic, environmental, community and individual health. Using a checklist format, this worksheet engages eaters on ways to support a healthy, sustainable food system.
- Exploring Healthy, Sustainable Food Systems Values survey – This online survey will assess the extent to which food pantry clients, community leaders and DMARC constituencies will shape future DMARC conversations, programs and outreach initiatives.
- Food System Investigative Services: Decoding Food System DNA poster – This poster displays the various tiers, complexities and impacts – specifically social, health, economic and environmental – of current food supply chains. There is a comparison of the cost of a meal purchased at wholesale prices versus retail prices.
- 7) Failure to Thrive: Examining the Gaps Between Wages, Economic Security & Sustainable Communities brochure – This brochure examines the gaps between wages, food access, economic security and sustainable communities. Solutions are outlined for assuring all Polk County eaters earn a sustainable wage, are food secure and support a thriving community.
Ancillary Results and Benefits
The project influenced discussion and planning for the Healthy Polk 2020 Planning Initiative priority – Affordable, Accessible healthy Foods Planning. DMARC was actively represented as discussion centered on the community’s food assets and gaps, and identification of food system priorities and activities for 2010-2012. These efforts resulted in a 4-page Issue Brief prepared and distributed by Healthy Polk 2020 that included the impact of community food environments and recommend next steps, many of which are elements of the Mapping project.
Because of the project, DMARC has increased its collaborative partnerships with Iowa State University Extension through the Family Nutrition Education Program (FNEP). Through this collaboration, ISUE specialists provide a series of 8-week nutritional education sessions to improve participant awareness, use, and understanding of food budgets, food selection, and recipes to help families address health and wellness issues that can be impacted by dietary choices. In turn, DMARC provides nutritional food package incentives at the end of each weekly session to encourage participant attendance and reinforce positive food choices and behavior. This nutrition education component started as a pilot effort in mid-2011 and is now fully funded to assist around 300 families in 2012.
The Mapping project has led to recognition of DMARC as a leader in food access research and work, and provided opportunities for broader community discussion and education about how nutrition awareness, food choices and food access significantly impact community and family capacity for health. These discussions have led to additional program and funding support through The Wellmark Foundation, United Way of Central Iowa, USDA – Food & Nutrition Service, Healthy Polk 2020, Hormel Foods Corporation, and Telligen Community Initiative.
Lessons Learned and Shared
Through its food pantry network, DMARC provides food assistance once each 30 days to anyone requesting help. In other words, DMARC does not have an income threshold to determine which consumers may receive food assistance. As a result of analyzing project findings and the positive impact of increased SNAP enrollment in Polk County in terms of consumer food access, health, and resources, DMARC is exploring modifications to its consumer data network and intake process.
Presently, households self-report their SNAP enrollment, with approximately 63% of DMARC food pantry families currently receiving SNAP benefits. Yet, self-reported data also indicates that about 75% of families served by DMARC have household income at or below 185% of the poverty threshold. This translates to a gap of nearly 12% more food pantry households each year that are potentially eligible for SNAP assistance, yet they are not enrolled. With 13,000 households served in 2011, this is equal to 1,560 families, or nearly 4,400 people,
Therefore, one change DMARC is considering is to require all households to apply for SNAP benefits within 30 days of entering the food pantry system.
DMARC’s MovetheFood.org is a website and community-wide campaign designed specifically to host project results. Publicly launched in March 2011, the website continues to serve as a dynamic resource and educational platform for food system work in Greater Des Moines/Polk County, Iowa.
Project results and specific components of the project have been shared with a variety of audiences, including: Healthy Polk 2020 planning initiative; DMARC congregational membership; DMARC delegate assemblies; DMARC board of directors and constituents; local and federal policy makers; university professors and students; Head Start representatives; and ISU Extension personnel.
Presentations have been made to federal, state, and local policy makers. The Mapping project is included as a resource on the national-level Hunger-Free Communities Network (http://www.hungerfreecommunities.org/hfccommunities/movethefood-mapping-an-end-to-hunger-in-greater-des-moines/).
DMARC was represented as a presenter at the first annual Hunger-Free Communities Summit in Washington, D.C. in 2011. On February 25, 2012, DMARC was a joint panelist at the second annual Hunger-Free Communities Summit in Washington, D.C., presenting some of the latest project findings and emphasizing the impact of data in food access and human services work.
Through representation on the Iowa Food Systems Council, the Food Access and Health Work Group, Polk County Housing Continuum Directors Council, Healthy Polk 2020 work groups, Greater Des Moines Homeless Coordinating Council and HCC Steering Committee, Coordinated Intake Work Group, and other planning bodies, DMARC is sharing project findings and facilitating community dialog around issues of food access and food system planning.
Next Steps and Partners
DMARC continues committed to moving forward with project objectives to:
- Utilize small planning teams (pods) from many community sectors and career fields and invite assessment/analysis of food resources, gaps, barriers, programs and recommended strategies through use of different logic and problem-solving models;
- Coordinate development and implementation of a local food policy council; and
- Draft the inaugural “Greater Des Moines Hunger-Free Community Plan”.
Project additions and enhancements include development of a client choice/market-style food pantry pilot model; implementation of a mobile food pantry; and expansion of the SNAP enrollment outreach and FNEP nutrition education efforts.
Current, past, and anticipated project partners and funders include Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines; United Way of Central Iowa; United States Department of Agriculture – Food & Nutrition Service/Iowa Department of Human Services; Healthy Polk 2020; Hormel Foods Corporation; Des Moines Area Religious Council; Telligen Community Initiative; The Wellmark Foundation; and Iowa State University Extension – Polk County. In-kind resources, as well as technical and liaison support have been provided by: The Alliance to End Hunger; Des Moines Area Community College – Urban campus; Iowans for Social & Economic Development; Iowa Institute for Community Alliances; Central Iowa Shelter & Services; Iowa Department of Human Services – Adult, Children, & Families; Iowa Food Bank Association; Bidwell Riverside Center; United Way of Central Iowa; Urbandale Food Pantry; and Johnston Food Pantry, among others.