Full Service Westside

Since the Muscatine Food Pantry moved into the Muscatine Center for Social Action’s (MCSA’s) building, many groups around town have begun sending them perishable food. From grocery stores like Aldi and Hy-Vee, to restaurants like Elly’s and Pizza Ranch, and even convenience stores such as Kum & Go, many places in the community have made a point to donate their rescued food (food at or just past its sell by date) to MCSA. While MCSA uses much of this food in their evening meals or distributes it on food pantry days, they receive so many generous contributions that they cannot always use them in time. To solve this dilemma, MCSA Program Director Angela Boelens created a rescued food giveaway program to get the word and the food out where it belongs, to people in need.
Because rescued food does not arrive at MCSA on a set schedule and does not last indefinitely, Boelens explains that the food pantry cannot always hold onto it until a distribution day. At first, Boelens would make calls to other organizations she thought could use the rescued food. However, as the number of donations increased, she no longer had enough time or contacts to distribute it efficiently. To work around this problem, Boelens began piloting a text message alert system to inform people in need when they could collect rescued food in real time.
Boelens began piloting the program with about thirty people who received services from MCSA at the beginning of December 2018. Once MCSA received a load of rescued food, Boelens would send out an alert sharing what kind of food people in need could collect. Then, those interested would stop by MCSA’s building and take as much as they needed on a first-come, first-served basis. The pilot proved successful. The alerts truly did bring people in need to MCSA to collect the food, and the simple distribution plan did not create extra work for Boelens or her colleagues. Satisfied the rescued food program could work on a larger scale, Boelens began publicizing the text message alert system to the public, who received it well. In the week and a half after Boelens began promoting it, the number of people in need signed up for alerts jumped to over 100.
Though pleased with its initial popularity, Boelens has even higher hopes for the program’s future. While the increase in alert subscribers has helped MCSA share more of its reclaimed food with the most vulnerable in the community, Boelens says MCSA often still has extra food left. To keep this from happening, Boelens plans to send out more specific alerts letting people in need know how much food MCSA has available at a given time, as well as a second alert letting people know when the food runs out. By adding these nuances to the system, Boelens hopes more people in need will turn out and will keep coming until the second message goes out. Boelens also hopes to begin distributing toiletries and personal care items this way, and to get larger organizations that can benefit from reclaimed food (like churches and nonprofits that serve the needy) to sign up for the alerts too.
Overall, Boelens feels pleased with the new rescued food program. “I love it because every time someone comes into our building, we’re taking care of them. The need for food in this county is staggering. This is an easy way to help them. We don’t want a single calorie in the county wasted.” Additionally, Boelen’s finds that this program draws in new people in need who have not used the food pantry or any of MCSA’s services before and makes them aware of what MCSA can provide for them. With so many positives, Boelens looks forward to expanding and perfecting the rescued food program.

Full Service Westside