Giving Compass' Take:

Food pantries are feeling strained in Midwestern communities due to issues regarding access and public and private food benefit programs.

Since accessibility is an issue due to geographic locations of food pantries, how can funders implement or support place-based solutions?

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Food pantry use is up in many Midwest communities, despite a reasonably strong economy and low unemployment rate. There can be several reasons for the increased need for free food.

“What we’re seeing statewide is that we have pretty low wages in Iowa,” says Natalie Veldhouse, a research associate with the Iowa Policy Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit. “We have people who are working full-time who might not be able to make ends meet and people who are piecing together multiple part-time jobs, sometimes without benefits.”

The Food Research and Action Center tracks food insecurity. This interactive map shows the rates of people receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, and most of the Midwest states have relatively low rates.

“While we’ve seen overall need decrease, what’s happening is more people are using food pantries and less people are using food assistance,” says Luke Elzinga, DMARC’s communications manager.

Elzinga says DMARC has also increased accessibility by adding mobile food pantries and extending hours, which means more of the people who can benefit from the additional food are able to receive it.

“Another issue that we see in diverting benefits from a public program to relying on nonprofits to provide food for Iowans, Midwesterners, is that in large cities there’s usually more robust nonprofit sector where there are large food pantries that are connected with food banks and are open multiple days a week,” Veldhouse said. “You can come in and get a bunch of food and they have a ton of services. If you’re talking about a more rural area, sometimes it’s a food pantry in a church basement that’s open once a month.”

Read the full article about strain on food pantries by Amy Mayer at Harvest Public Media.