Around Town Mobile Food Pantry (Around Town), formerly Van Ministries, delivers food to over 350 people in the Des Moines area the second Tuesday of every month.
The ministry is supported by several area churches: Des Moines, Jordan Crossing, Ankeny, Ames, Nevada, Winterset and Knoxville churches. Local Pathfinder clubs occasionally do food drives for the ministry. Monetary donations are also collected at the area churches to purchase food.
The ministry relies on volunteers from local churches and the Des Moines elementary school to both pack and deliver food.
Each month students, grades five through eight, from the Des Moines elementary school come to the storage facility to help pack boxes for Around Town customers. The students normally pack about 75 boxes each month. Many students said they enjoy working at the food pantry.
“It’s pretty fun actually,” said Philip Onek, an eighth grader. “I like it because everyone comes together and helps each other out.”
An additional 90-100 boxes are packed one Sunday a month by church volunteers.
Once the boxes are ready for distribution, volunteers drive their personal vehicles to deliver food to Around Town customers.
Bruce Christensen, a member of the Des Moines Church, began volunteering six years ago after hearing about the ministry in church. Despite a back injury Christensen continues delivering food.
“I love doing it,” Christensen said. “Because of my back injury I’m always in pain when I’m done, but the emotional happiness overpowers that. It’s worth it.”
Many of the volunteers said they continue working for the food pantry because they enjoy connecting with the customers every month.
Taariq Patel, pastor of the Des Moines Church, said his favorite part of the ministry is connecting with people.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for me and my family to get out there and build relationships with people,” Patel said.
In addition to support from local churches, Around Town receives 1,900 pounds of food from their partner Food Bank of Iowa each month. In 2017 Around Town was inducted into the Food Bank of Iowa’s Hall of Fame for distributing over one million pounds of food.
“Around the Town Mobile Food Pantry provides an incredible service for Des Moines and is one of two agencies in the metro that offers deliveries on a consistent and regular basis,” said Lexie Prigge, regional partnership manager for Food Bank of Iowa. “Deliveries are one of the most requested services but there just aren’t many food pantries that offer it, so they are helping to fill a huge gap!”
Around Town has also received grants in the past couple years which helped them purchase new freezers and refrigerators for the storage facility located near the conference office. The grants also assisted Around Town in purchasing food, a new air conditioning unit, food packing supplies and carts.
“A lot of our volunteers are retired or elderly and so [the carts] make it physically easier to transport things to our vehicles,” said Karen McCarthy, Around Town deliveries coordinator.
Around Town Director and Ankeny Church member James Hansen said he hopes the pantry can continue its partnerships for years to come.
“We want to continue and grow our relationship with the food bank and hopefully provide even more meals to our community,” Hansen said.