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DSM Fellow Shares How 2021 Capstone Project Tackles Food Insecurity in DSM

Community Fridges

April 13, 2021

Though many of us may not realize the grave disparities that exist in our own communities, people struggle with hunger in every county in Iowa. According to Feeding America, one in 10 people struggle with hunger, and one in seven children struggle with hunger in Iowa. People facing hunger are estimated to report needing $144,058,000 more per year to meet their food needs. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity is even more of an issue. Being food insecure means that someone faces the uncertainty of having, or being unable to acquire, enough food due to insufficient money or other resources.

As a member of the DSM Fellowship Program, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to leaders from Food Bank of Iowa and Meals from the Heartland speak about food insecurity in our communities. They provided insights into the issue and are doing tremendous work to support those in need.

Read more about the Food Bank of Iowa’s relief efforts during the pandemic here and how Meals from the Heartland provided a record breaking amount of aid during COVID-19 here.

2021 Capstone Project

Thanks to the insight we’ve gained, a few of us in the Fellowship program are partnering up with Eat Greater DSM to complete a capstone project to further address food insecurity. Eat Greater Des Moines is a Greater Des Moines (DSM)-based nonprofit that facilitates and builds connections to strengthen the area’s food system. Their mission is to unite the community in providing access to quality food for all. Our project with them revolves around community fridges, which are refrigerators placed in the community where anyone is welcome to take food or donate food. They are becoming a popular concept in larger cities, but as of now, only one community fridge exists in DSM. With our capstone project, we hope to help change that.

Operating Community Fridges in DSM

We interviewed the owner of the existing community fridge in Des Moines to gather insights into what does and doesn’t work well when it comes to fridge operations, including setup, management, upkeep and handling donations. Community fridges are more prevalent in larger cities, so we’re also looking into how those operate and if their operational tactics would work here in DSM. Using those insights alongside additional research, volunteering and fieldwork, we are creating a toolkit that Eat Greater DSM can use to help start more successful community fridges. We are also building a screening tool to help the organization determine what new locations may work well to expand to — email ginacosta18@gmail.com with location ideas — and what partners to work with for donations and fridge oversight. We’re looking at factors such as accessibility, safety, demand, existing volunteer groups and legality when it comes to creating success criteria for new fridge locations and partners.

I’m excited to continue our work on this project over the next few months and learn more about food insecurity along the way. It’s been a great experience so far being able to work with other DSM young professionals on a shared goal.

The DSM Fellowship program is the preeminent professional development initiative attracting, developing and retaining a diverse community of top-tier graduates to Greater Des Moines (DSM).

Gina Costa

Gina Costa moved to Greater Des Moines (DSM) to attend Drake University and study information systems and marketing and later get an MBA. She works at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield as a technology development associate.