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Home / Feed Iowa First partners with Iowa groups to provide free fresh produce in Cedar Rapids
CEDAR RAPIDS — A partnership of several Iowa-based organizations will make fresh produce more accessible in downtown Cedar Rapids.
Nonprofit Feed Iowa First partnered with Iowa BIG students, the University of Iowa Geographical Information Systems Department and Kirkwood to form a mobile produce distribution site, called the Fresh Choice Food Pantry, at the south parking lot of the Fillmore Center, 520 11th St. NW. Its first day of operation will be Tuesday from 4 to 5 p.m.
Feed Iowa First Executive Director Carter Oswood said the organization purchased the mobile library last March from the Friends of the Cedar Rapids Public Library “with really no intention.” He kept it in the company’s assets until kick-starting conversations with Iowa BIG and eventually coming up with the idea to turn it into a stand-alone fresh food pantry.
“At the beginning, the project really was how can we utilize qualitative and quantitative data to figure out where a distribution point for our veggie van should be somewhere in the downtown area?” Oswood said.
The trailer was red, custom built and had bookshelves inside and outside, Oswood said. Students enrolled in Kirkwood’s Architecture, Construction and Engineering Program helped build the truck to be ready for produce distribution.
The UI Geographical Information Systems Department helped the Iowa BIG students use block and census data to glean information such as transportation, crime rates and access to fresh food and grocery stores to determine a location.
“We utilized that data and found that there’s a really big need around the northwest side right on the outskirts of downtown,” Oswood said. Plus, he said the organization already has an urban farm near the county-owned Fillmore Center.
After last summer’s derecho, Feed Iowa First also recognized the increased need to expand food access in Linn County. According to the 2020 Linn County Food Rescue Assessment, 24,000 people were classified as food insecure — about one-ninth of Linn County’s population.
Much of the produce will come from Feed Iowa First’s 28 urban farms. The organization also aggregates from local farmers to provide produce that is chemical-free and does not include genetically modified organisms.
Volunteers from the Advocates for Social Justice and Feed Iowa First will staff the pantry, Oswood said. It will operate from 4 to 5 p.m. each Tuesday in a seasonal cycle, roughly from May to October or November.
“We really like to stay consistent with the times and the places and the intervals so that people can depend on us, and if they’re not able to make it then their neighbors can get more,” Oswood said.
Oswood said this project was a success story through and through.
“I think the kids had a lot of fun being innovative and creative with this, but also knowing that it was impactful — like what they were doing was making a tangible difference,” Oswood said.
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