DES MOINES, Iowa — The Des Moines Area Religious Council says its food pantry network is seeing unprecedented use. In the last 13 months, they've seen a record number of people using food pantries for the first time.
"People don't realize that even living in Iowa there are families that have food insecurities," said Des Moines Public Schools Executive Chef Chad Taylor.
Taylor and his team have been busy prepping for the summer meal program, which will serve anyone 18 years old or younger at 29 locations.
"This year, I expect us to probably average right around between 3500 to 4000 meals daily," he said.
And new this year, families need to be aware these meals must be consumed at the pickup locations and cannot be taken home.
"The meal is for the child," said Taylor. "You know everything in that meal, the idea is to make sure that the kids are having all the nutrition that they need. And I know sometimes they might need an apple sauce cup or some broccoli, that might be a little tempting for someone else to take or consume. But it's really for that child for that day."
"We continue to see our numbers rising as we're going into one of our busiest parts of the year in the summertime," said DMARC Communications Manager Blake Willadsen. "Which is got us a little bit antsy, just knowing that things are not going to slow down."
DMARC says it set an all-time single-day record in May of this year, serving 1,725 in a single day. It adds 34% of the network it serves are kids under the age of 18.
"Mental health is a huge concern right now in our community broadly," said Willadsen. "But one of the things that can impact that is whether you are continuing to maintain a healthy, healthy diet and sustaining nutrition."
Willadsen says a lack of nutrition can also contribute to higher childhood obeseity rates.DMARC and DMPS are both working hard to ensure families have access to healthy meals throughout the summer months.
"It really is a matter of passion," said Taylor. "I think everyone involved with the Summer Feeding Program, teamwork makes the dream work and we have a great staff that this is what they they live and die to do."
If you're interested in finding out where DMPS meals will be served or any of the surrounding districts this summer, click here.