After being pushed to the limit for two years of the pandemic, Iowa’s largest food pantry is seeing yet another significant rise in demand for its services in the past few months.

Tamsin Webb, spokeswoman for the Bidwell Riverside Center in Des Moines, says when SNAP benefits were cut in April, they saw a 45% increase in clients. “We started to feel it then, but then May was when we really felt a large impact,” Webb says. “There was about a 68% increase.” She says the pantry served more than 2,400 people in May of 2021, but the numbers for this May bounded to nearly 4,100.

During the first week of June, the facility reported a 63% increase in traffic from a year ago, and the numbers aren’t expected to go down. The average SNAP benefit for individuals dropped from $2.65 per meal to $1.52. Webb says it’s straining all of their resources.

“We’re doing the best we can,” Webb says. “We definitely rely heavily on our volunteers, on donations, on donation and supply drives, because it’s not just helping the patrons come in and get their food that they need and the clothes that they need, it’s also keeping things organized. It’s maintaining our community garden we have, it’s a lot.”

The new stresses may cause clients to see even longer lines and potential food shortages as it becomes increasingly difficult for low-income families to make ends meet. Webb says it’s possible people who used to be regular donors to the pantry are now in need of its services. “With the rise in food costs and gas prices combined with the decrease in SNAP benefits, it’s hit a lot of people really hard and a lot of people have had to make changes and cutbacks in lifestyles,” Webb says. “I wouldn’t be surprised if some people would probably need to use our pantry now, just because money’s tight.”

Founded in 1893, Bidwell is one of 14 pantries that operate under the Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) umbrella and provide a food supply meant to sustain families for a three-day period. Clients can receive this three-day supply once per calendar month.

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