Launched in September 2009, the primary goal of Mapping an End to Hunger in Greater Des Moines is to expand beyond the historic concept of providing hunger relief and to build a systemic community model that is targeted to end hunger in Polk County.
Why now? While food insecurity rates have been decreasing in Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and South Dakota since 1998, food insecurity has increased in Iowa. In Polk County, as many as 20% of children and one in six adults (17%) do not have enough to eat.
In 2009 and 2010 alone, the DMARC Food Pantry Network provided nearly 3 million emergency meals for about 60,000 individuals. On average, participants received the equivalent of 15 days of food.
DMARC and other charitable organizations have long served the community through neighborhood pantry sites and services with the intent to provide social assistance and to fill service gaps that are not met through government programs. However, the loosely-structured emergency food delivery system in Polk County has inherent limitations. And we, as a community, are currently ill-equipped to respond to sustained high levels of food insecurity and hunger.
What will we do? In Phase 1 of the project several food access maps were created that demonstrate local poverty trends and movement over the past 30 years. This data was cross-referenced to locations of food resources, as well as proximity to public transportation routes, revealing food deserts in some of the most impoverished areas of Polk County.
Additionally, an electronically-accessible food security map of the Greater Des Moines community has been developed. The map will be activated and publicly available in March 2011. This tool will allow consumers to key in an address to quickly identify food resources by location and type, including emergency food pantries and farmers markets that may be close to their residence or place of work. Objectives of this interactive map are to empower consumers through more informed food resource choices, and to improve food access for the most vulnerable of our neighbors.
The project is conducting a comprehensive assessment of the current landscape of the food “system” by assembling all available information on food sources for low-income families, as well as new, interview-based and dynamic information from consumers about food acquisition and use patterns.
Results will provide the foundation to facilitate system-wide dialog and planning and are expected to serve as a catalyst for the creation of a coordinated, community-wide response to hunger.
How will this project make a difference? Project results and findings will address Healthy Polk 2020 community priorities as follows:
- Devote additional resources to prevention and wellness. The comprehensive food system map and related data will serve as additional prevention and wellness resources, providing a publicly available dataset to locate virtually all major food sources in Greater Des Moines. In addition to revealing the status of the existing food “system”, the project will serve as a catalyst for food system reform and reconfiguration intended to improve the long-term health and wellness of the community.
- Empower more people to take responsibility for maintaining their health. The map and related educational materials and outreach efforts, will serve as expanded resources for consumers, empowering them to take responsibility for maintaining their health – particularly through improved access and awareness about resources and tools available to obtain nutritionally adequate foods.
- Ensure access to affordable, healthy food for everyone. Efforts to educate consumers about the importance of eating more nutritious food will fail if such foods are not affordable and available. In many low-income neighborhoods it is virtually impossible to find fresh, nutritious food. Project findings have potential to inform and influence community development and planning that will remove barriers and enhance accessibility to affordable and adequate food supplies.
A project advisory team and planning groups are forming now. To learn how you or your organization can support Mapping an End to Hunger in Greater Des Moines or become actively involved in this work, contact Kristine Frakes, DMARC Development Director, at 515-277-6969, ext. 13 or firstname.lastname@example.org.