Many Iowa food pantries promote healthy habits! Pantry clients can try new foods through food samplings, recipe kits, and fresh produce donations, thanks to Iowa State University Extension and Outreach SNAP-Ed.
Food pantries serve hundreds of thousands of Iowans every year. Pantries are often staffed by volunteers who stock the pantry, keep the pantry clean, and help clients. Running a pantry can be hard for both staff and volunteers. Challenges such promoting unfamiliar healthy foods can be overwhelming. When unfamiliar foods are not promoted, they do not move out of the pantry. This can result in problems with pantry storage space and food waste. Additionally, fresh fruits and vegetables can be a challenge for pantries to get. The timing is critical as any fresh produce donation or purchase must line up with the pantry’s distribution schedule and storage space.
Despite these challenges, it is important for food pantries to offer fruits and vegetables to promote healthy choices among their clients. For food pantry clients, it can be costly to buy new fruits or vegetables or try healthy recipes that family members may not eat, so pantry access is a wonderful opportunity.
Iowa State University (ISU) Extension and Outreach SNAP-Ed created a win-win for clients and pantries! Clients were equipped with new recipe ideas and given an opportunity to try new foods in a low-risk environment. These new foods included fresh fruits and vegetables. The food pantry freed up space on their shelves to offer a wider variety of food options and reduced potential food waste.
ISU SNAP-Ed Healthy Food Access Specialists partnered with food pantries to provide taste tests of less popular healthy foods, such as large bags of dried fruit. Healthy Food Access Specialists also bundled food pantry foods with recipe cards. An example of this is a chili recipe that uses canned ground beef. In addition, mini-grants were provided to community gardens to donate produce to nearby food pantries. Nutrition education materials were also supplied.
ISU SNAP-Ed Healthy Food Access Specialists partnered with 21 food pantries serving 15,739 food pantry clients. Together, they promoted healthy choices through recipe ideas, tasting opportunities, and meal bundles.
As a result of the partnership, 91,772 pounds of fruits and vegetables were donated to 119 Iowa food pantries, benefitting 65,522 food pantry clients. Each pantry posted and distributed accompanying nutrition education materials to support clients in using the produce. At some locations, SNAP-Ed nutrition educators offered a nutrition education series for pantry clients.
Feedback from food pantry clients indicated that they valued the opportunity to try unfamiliar foods in a low-risk environment.
A food pantry client from Calhoun County shared:
"I was not willing to purchase eggplant in the store because I was afraid it would be a waste of money if I did not like it. Getting to try it through the donation garden let me know that I do like it and it will not be a waste of money. Thanks for growing a variety of foods for people to try.”
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach SNAP- Ed is looking forward to continuing and expanding the program. They are hoping to add additional food pantries and community gardens next year. Food pantries completed a pre and post NEFPAT (Nutrition Environment Food Pantry Assessment Tool). Community gardens completed a year-end report. This was used to evaluate program success.
Christine Hradek, MPH
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, SNAP-Ed