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Seeing the Face of Hunger Firsthand

Food Fair Ashlyn

Ashlyn Brewer helps unload corn from a St. Louis Area Foodbank truck during a recent Food Fair in Warrenton, Mo. / Photo by Bethany Prange

Since last November, I’ve been volunteering with the Foodbank as part of the Social Media Avengers group. Until today, that meant providing blog training, sharing content from my networks, and brainstorming social media strategy over drinks at the Luna Lounge. That’s not a tough job description for a volunteer, especially for such a good cause.

But today was the first time I ever really saw the face of hunger in St. Louis. I attended a food fair put on by the Foodbank, and was actually able to put food into the hands (and cars) of people who really need it. Bethany told our group that these events really put things into perspective, but I couldn’t have predicted the impact it would have on me.

The things that made the biggest impression on me were:

1. The sheer amount of people willing to wait hours in line for food. Our Social Media Avengers caravan arrived more than an hour before we were scheduled to hand out food.  But we weren’t the first ones there. Cars were already starting to line up for food. Briefly, I worried that the heat might keep people away. But by the time we unloaded all the food pallets from the refrigerated trucks, I could no longer see the end of the line of cars.  In total, we provided more than 150 families with food in just a two-hour period.

2.  The commitment of Foodbank staff and volunteers. As you might have noticed, we’re in the middle of a hellish heat wave. Still, more than 30 volunteers came to the event in Warrenston to hand out food. We all came together with one goal – fill all the cars with food as efficiently as possible. People waited hours for that food, and no one wanted to make them wait a moment more than necessary. Because of the intense heat, volunteers kept an eye on each other, making sure everyone was drinking plenty of water and getting out of the sun when possible.

3.  The diversity of food each family received. When I think of the Foodbank and food drives, I often think simple, non-perishable items like canned beans and macaroni and cheese. But fighting hunger in St. Louis takes a lot of different kinds of food. We handed out bread, bushels of corn, crates of bananas, pizzas, crackers, and household items like toilet paper. I got the best job – handing out candy. Certainly, the healthy food the other stations had is more important to a hungry individual’s well-being. But everyone deserves to enjoy dessert after a balanced meal, and I was psyched to see the delight on kids’ faces when I handed them a bag of sweets.

4. The kids. From now on, when I think about hunger in St. Louis, I’m going to think about the kids in those cars. I can’t imagine what it’s like for a child to wait in a car, on a hot day, for something most of us get in one quick trip to the grocery store.  And while you can hardly go to the grocery store without at least one run-in with an unruly child, I didn’t see a single child cry or whine the entire day.

5.  Hunger in St. Louis is real.  Intellectually, I’ve known about the hunger problem in our region since I moved here in 2010. The Foodbank has done an excellent job helping the community understand the problem we face. But there’s something about seeing it face-to-face that changes everything. It was immediately clear to me that no one would wait that long, sitting in a parking lot on a hot day, if they didn’t really need the food.

The Foodbank is working hard to solve the problem of hunger in St. Louis, but we all must be willing to be part of the solution. The food you donate or box up on a Foodbank volunteer shift all goes to real people, who really need it. The time and money you donate helps solve a critical problem facing our community.

As of today, hunger in St. Louis is real, but the Foodbank, and all of us, can work toward making it just a memory.

Ashlyn Brewer

 

Ashlyn Brewer is a marketing associate at Standing Partnership and a St. Louis Area Foodbank Social Media Avenger

 

 

Indoor Fun for Kids to Beat the Heat

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Photo courtesy of Feeding America

Summer is a great time to be a parent. The kids are out of school and you get to enjoy spending all that extra time with them.

But when the temperature is hovering above 100 degrees, playing a round of catch doesn’t sound all that appealing.

How do you keep the kids from climbing the walls – and driving you stir-crazy – when its sweltering outside?

Luckily, Pinterest is full of great ideas for free or cheap ways to entertain kids of all ages.

We here at the St. Louis Area Foodbank know that our clients, and even some of our volunteers, are on a tight budget.  But kids still need to have fun!

So, we created a board on our Pinterest page just for the kids.

Here are some of the coolest – and most fun – ideas. For more cool ideas, check out the above link to our Pinterest page!

• Painted Toast! Mix a little milk with some food coloring and hand the kids a new paint brush. A few slices of bread make the perfect canvas. Let them get their Picasso on before you pop the slices in the toaster.

• Masking Tape Town! Get out the masking tape and make roads for all the toy cars! Give the construction paper and safety scissors so they can cut out houses for their town!

• Kid-friendly Science Experiment! Mix baking soda, vinegar and various colors of food coloring to watch the fizzle and pop! Or, microwave a bar of Ivory soap and let the kids mold it into shapes!

• Homemade Stamps! Use apples, potatoes or even the used carboard tubes from paper towel rolls to make fun stamps! With some paper and washable paint, the tots can make a masterpiece!

• Frozen Color Cubes! Freeze water and water colors in ice cube trays the night before. Then pop out the various colors and let the kiddos use them to paint on scrap fabric! The color bleeds as it melts and since the cubes are nice and cold, you can even do this activity outside!

• Kid-Sized Drive-In Movie! Use large cardboard boxes, paint and colored tape to create cars for the kids to sit in. Paper plates make great wheels! Let each kid help decorate their “car” and when they’re dry, park ‘em in front of a kid show for a “drive-in” movie!

Sources: Pinterest, the Share and Remember blog, Creatively Content, Mom to 2 Posh Little Divas, I Can Teach My Child and Not Just A Housewife.

Bethany Prange is the communications coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank

Generosity Should Be Year-round


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Photo courtesy of Feeding America

When we were kids, my younger brother was a family legend.

Even though he was pretty scrawny until high school football came around, that kid could eat his body weight in food.

My mom was constantly amazed at how quickly an entire pantry full of food would disappear.

She bought in bulk and we regularly went to restaurants that offered buffets because that was the only way to keep my brother full.

Clearly, he was a growing boy. He wound up being over six feet tall.

It appears he got his massive appetite honest. My mom frequently recalls the time she first cooked for my dad’s family. She swears she cooked 10 pounds of mashed potatoes for his crew of six nephews, and it didn’t even make it around the dinner table once!

Luckily for us, my family had the ability to pay for enough food to keep all our big eaters fed.

When I think of how much extra food my parents had to buy to feed us three meals a day in the summer, I often wonder how a low-income family could possibly do it.

Families who rely on the free or reduced school lunch program during the school year are often barely able to provide their kids one meal a day. In the state of Missouri, over 40% of children utilize school lunches.

When summer hits, these families must make huge sacrifices to give their “growing kids” the basics of three meals a day. Some parents skip meals themselves to make sure their kids eat while some skimp on other necessities to buy food. Others are forced to turn to agencies like the St. Louis Area Foodbank.

Luckily, we are here to help. But we can’t do it alone.

Christmas in July Logo

Once again this summer, Fresh 102.5 is hosting their Sixth Annual Christmas in July food drive.

 

Since this event started, the food drive has collected more than $7,600 and  24,800 pound of food items; enabling the Foodbank to distribute over 48,000 meals to our area’s needy families.

In the heat of the summer, this food drive helps the Foodbank keep up with higher demand.

But without support from you – a member of our community – none of this would be possible. Here’s how you can help local families in need this summer:

  • Host a food and funds drive at your business, church or home.
  • Donate any non-perishable items at any of the Fresh 102.5 live broadcast events:
    o 12 to 2 p.m. Tuesday, July 24 at the Central West End Straub’s
    o 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 25 at the Clayton Straub’s
    o 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, July 26 at the Town & Country Straub’s
    o 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, July 29 at the Webster Groves Straub’s
  • Visit Fresh 102.5’s website and donate any monetary amount via the Christmas in July virtual food drive! It’s fun and easy!
  • Encourage your co-workers to work together for a great cause! You can register your workplace today to contribute a group donation of at least 102 canned food items for pick-up. Fill out the form here and Fresh 102.5 will contact you within one week to set up a convenient pick-up time for your office.

Bring out your holiday generosity early and help keep a child from going hungry for the rest of the summer.

Bethany Prange is the communications coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank

Casey Milton

 

 

Casey Milton is the product donations coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank

 

All We Want To Do Is Give Your Kids A Lunch

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A letter from a child that receives assistance from TWIGS in Granite City, Il / Photo by Kate Hartman

Every week day of summer break from school, volunteers from TWIGS head to their designated distribution site — a city lot, a park, a fire department or a YMCA — to serve food from iced coolers.

On any given day, they will serve anywhere from 20 to 50 plus kids per site.

Is this a fundraiser for a local school?  Nope.

The lunches given out by TWIGS go to children who may otherwise go without food during the summer months.

TWIGS is not your typical children’s feeding program.

TWIGS Summer Meals

In cooperation with Gloria Harrison, the food service director for Granite City School District #9, the Granite City mayor, and the local police department, TWIGS Founder Lisa Guilliams was able to narrow down neighborhoods that would be most accessible for the children of the Granite City, Il community. With as many as 15 carefully pinpointed sites, TWIGS provides a free summer lunch to any child that comes to one of its booths.

“We don’t want your name, we don’t want your address, we don’t want your phone number,” says Guilliams.  “All we want to do is give your kids a lunch.”

While there was initial uncertainty from some families within the communities last year, this year Guilliam says, “For us, it’s word of mouth; other people in the community talking about the program and building a relationship.  Because they’ve heard of us, they’re not as hesitant.”
Guilliams was able to take a few moments and do a quick Q and A with the Foodbank regarding her time volunteering with TWIGS.

1. Please give me your name and the name of the agency where you volunteer.

Lisa Guilliams.   TWIGS, A Family TreeHouse Outreach.

2. When did you first become involved with TWIGS?

Officially, last May 2011.

3. What prompted you to begin working or volunteering with TWIGS? 

The realization of how high free and reduced lunches are in this community.  People right around our community have no food in their houses.  What happens to kids when school lets out?

4. How many children does TWIGS serve on an average month?

Last year we did 2,500 the whole summer.  This year we’re averaging 4,000 a month.

5. How do you feel the St. Louis Area Foodbank affects the services you are able to provide the children of TWIGS? 

More variety, much better price; allows us to service a lot more kids and add more nutrition, and a lot more variety.

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6. What does a typical TWIGS lunch consist of?

A lunchable, drink, yogurt or applesauce, and cookies.

7. Do you feel the work you do is really making a difference in the lives of the people you serve? Can you tell me about an experience that made you feel you were making an impact?

Absolutely; we know that because of the moms, grandmas, dads, uncles, neighbors, whoever it is that are bringing the kids.  Last year at the end of the summer, parents were in tears.  We even have some thank you notes that we got.  They come and they talk about it and we’ve even had a few of the people in the community that bring their kids want to come and volunteer.  It’s truly about engaging everyone in the community.

8. In your time as a volunteer/staff member, what are the most significant changes you have seen? 

Number of kids would be the first thing; huge increase in the number of children; also, a change in the attitude and hearts of the people that are volunteering.  We’re helping the kids, but what they’re getting back from the kids is amazing; they come back with the cutest stories.  Two little girls came dressed up in their best little white dresses because they were going out for lunch.  Some color pictures, or try to write thank you and they’re barely printing.

There’s been a change, and that begins to move as we bring in more and more volunteers—it begins to affect the community too.  We’re helping the kids, but they’re changing hearts too and they don’t even know they’re doing it.

9. From your vantage point, what one thing would you like to see happen to improve the economic situation in America?
There’s got to be a way in the United States that people can get food.  It’s a crying shame that there are so many out there—young, old—that they’re hungry.

Kate_Hartman

 

 

Kate Hartman is an agency relations coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank

Hope Wasn’t Destroyed That Day

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Photo by Charlie Riedel/AP

We all know what it means to be afraid, but few of us have ever truly feared for our lives. That is the fear you hear in the voice of the Joplin resident whose unnerving video made its way across the internet last year. As an F5 tornado swept across this Missouri town, one resident captured the terror and surreal chaos as he huddled with his neighbors in a Joplin gas station.


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 Click here for the video captured on 5-22-2011 in Joplin, Mo

This YouTube video will serve as a lasting reminder of the devastating natural disaster that hit Joplin one year ago this week.  It will join the countless pictures, news stories and videos that still circulate the internet a year later.

Make no mistake, the tornado that ravaged Joplin was destructive.  But equally as powerful was the collective effort to rebuild a town that was nearly wiped entirely off the map.

Upon returning from Joplin, St. Louis Area Foodbank Distribution Coordinator Mitch Wirfs described the scene, “It was sheer destruction.  For as far as you could see, there was literally nothing there.  It was a fairly built-up community that was just gone.”

In the days after the tornado hit, St. Louisans did what most Americans do when faced with adversity – they rallied together and stepped up to help in any way they could.

From celebrities to the local school class, everyone looked for a way to help.

Bon Jovi collected supplies before his concert at the Scottrade Center.  Seven St. Louis Blues players, along with the United Way of Greater St. Louis and the St. Louis Area Foodbank held a food drive at the Scottrade Center on June 1, 2011.

For three hours, the Blues players signed autographs and posed for photos to thank fans for their outpouring of support. In less than 30 minutes, Blues fans had filled one Foodbank truck with donations!

The items collected were later driven to the closest Feeding America food bank to Joplin – Ozarks Food Harvest in Springfield, Mo.  Foodbank staff accompanied the product and helped with the recovery effort.

Wirfs said, “It was amazing the stuff that just kept showing up.  I’ll always remember this U-haul that pulled up from Indiana.  It was packed with clothing, toys and pet items.”

People from across the country traveled to Springfield with a common agenda – rebuilding Joplin and getting the people back on their feet, Wirfs said.

Recently, President Barack Obama spoke to the 2012 graduating class at Joplin High School, which was also destroyed by the tornado.

“We need each other. We’re important to each other. We’re stronger together than we are on our own,” President Obama told the students.

Those words definitely ring true.  Tornados and other natural disasters create fear, but in the aftermath, they give us faith in humanity and inspire hope for the future.

Ryan Farmer

    Ryan Farmer is the communications manager at the St. Louis Area Foodbank

 

The Beauty of a Math Nerd on a Mission

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Ben Spirk sorts donations at the South County post office during the Stamp Out Hunger food drive / Photo by Bethany Prange

 What do you get when you mix a numbers nerd with a strong passion to help feed those in need?

That’s right. You get me – the vice president of finance at the St. Louis Area Foodbank.

Most kids grow up thinking they’re going to be an astronaut or the president of the United States.  But me, I dreamed of a job where I could help people.

In grade school, I gathered some friends, and spent about a month organizing a haunted forest in the woods behind my house.  We successfully sold tickets and concessions during the one night event.  We also collected can goods in return for discounted tickets.

I was ecstatic when I realized we had collected two large boxes of can goods and $200!

My friends and I donated the can goods to Feed My People (one of the 500 food pantries served by the St. Louis Area Foodbank) and gave the money to a recent widow in the neighborhood who had lost her husband to cancer.

I know that charitable effort is relatively small in the grand scheme of things, but it helped me turn into the person I am today.  I went on to participate in Scouting for Food with my boy scout troop, and enjoyed preparing meals for the homeless with my church.

But as I dreamed of a future where I could help others every day, I ran into a problem. I wondered how I could make a living by simply helping people.

In school, I whizzed through algebra, statistics, and even calculus.   At last, I made the connection – I could use my given talent for numbers to do accounting for nonprofits!

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and earned my Certified Public Accountant license.  I began my career at a CPA firm where I most enjoyed helping charities reach their financial goals, and in turn, further their missions.

After auditing in public accounting for about six years, I finally found the perfect opportunity.

When I heard there was an opening for the vice president of finance at the Foodbank, I knew it would be a perfect fit.  After about a year and a half on the job, I know I made the right career move.

Through budgeting, forecasting, and overall financial analysis, I help the Foodbank remain one of the most efficient topnotch charities in the region.

It turns out my mad math skills CAN be a huge asset to the mission of feeding people in need! I’m grateful every day that I can help make a difference in the lives of hungry families.

Ben S

    Ben Spirk is the Vice President of Finance at the St. Louis Area Foodbank

Housewarming for a Homeless Family

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Homeless and veteran should not be in the same sentence.

These are the wise words of Trish Jenner, the St. Louis Area Foodbank’s volunteer coordinator.

Trish is absolutely right. No veteran should struggle with homelessness.

But in truth, no American should.

Unfortunately, we all know that homelessness does exist, for far too many individuals in this country.

The good news is that there are organizations working hard to put these mothers and fathers, sons and daughters into homes. Nonprofits like Almost Home, Habitat for Humanity, the Kathy Weinman Center and Humanitri do a great job of giving these individuals a home and a better future.

But here at the St. Louis Area Foodbank, we understand that if someone has been homeless, or living in a temporary shelter, he or she probably won’t have many belongings. They won’t have a closet full of clothes, much-needed toiletries, or a pantry full of food to stock their new home or apartment.

Even if individuals are not homeless, but have been living in the overcrowded homes of relatives or participating in a live-in treatment program, they often are not able to purchase the items they need to get a fresh start.

So while a new tenant being served by an organization like Places on Page or the Veterans Administration Medical Center should be able to rejoice in finally finding a good place to live, they still have to worry about buying the items they need to survive.

That’s where the Foodbank can help.

We offer the Transitional Housing Program, a one-time offering of food and household items that help families and individuals make the transition from a shelter or the streets to a new home.

The Transitional Housing Program is one of only two direct service programs operated by the Foodbank – the rural Food Fair Program is the other. We consider the THP a “direct service,” because we distribute food and other products to an individual or family in need for their use only.

And over time, we have come to realize just how important these items are to a family or individual trying to establish roots in a new home.

Occasionally, a client will come to the Foodbank with her agency caseworker to pick up her family’s THP food shipment. It is remarkable to see the joy on their faces when she realizes the “food basket” is a pallet full of a month’s worth of food and boxes of household necessities.

I believe, because of the tears I have witnessed at these times, that it may just be at this exact moment, that it really sinks in for such a client that she has acquired not just a home, but a home in which she will be able to feed her family.

That’s how we know that this program is making a difference.

Over the past 15 months, Julia Day, Places for People’s development director and master scrounger, has made many referrals for her new residents to the Foodbank’s Transitional Housing Program.

And she’s not alone.

We are ready at any time to send a shipment to the Veterans Administration Medical Center’s Clemmie Cunningham or Matt Vaporean, or the Veterans Administration Hope Recovery Center’s Joanne Joseph and her staff.

Local social service agencies served by this program include:

  • Almost Home
  • Habitat For Humanity
  • Humanitri
  • Kathy Weinman Center
  • Preferred Health Care
  • Queen of Peace Center (Catholic Charities Housing)
  • Salvation Army
  • St. Louis Crisis Nursery
  • St. Martha’s Hall (Catholic Charities Housing)
  • Veterans Administration Hope Recovery Center
  • Veterans Administration Medical Center

With the help of all these agencies, the Foodbank gets to play a small role in giving a fresh start to homeless veterans, families in shelters and individuals in a myriad of unfortunate situations. We are proud to do our part.

Jim

    Jim Eschen is the agency relations manager at the St. Louis Area Foodbank

Volunteer Profile – Springdale Presbyterian Church of Louisville

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A volunteer from Springdale Presbyterian Church of Louisville tapes up a box that will soon be filled with food / Photo by Bethany Prange

The St. Louis Area Foodbank is blessed to have a steady stream of volunteers to help us sort and repackage thousands of pounds of food donations.  In fact, we have more than 12,000 volunteers dedicate their time to us every year!

Many of our volunteers are local residents of the bi-state region – individuals committed to helping their neighbors in need. But sometimes, we even have volunteers from across the country and the world! Just yesterday, July 5, 2012, a mission group of adults and youth from Springdale Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Ky., spent the entire day volunteering with us!

Shannon Swartzentruber, 26, said the group is spending the entire week in the St. Louis area, volunteering their time to various nonprofits and church organizations.  We were lucky to have them and hope they come back soon!

Bethany Prange is the communications coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank

 

A Box Of Sustenance

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Photo courtesy of Feeding America

Ruthie Wright is a delightful lady who lives in one of the East St. Louis Housing Authority buildings.

Like many low-income seniors, Ruthie has struggled to survive on social security benefits since her retirement.

To keep food on the table, she visits food pantries in her neighborhood and applies for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, commonly known as food stamps.

But even with that help, Ruthie and many of her elderly neighbors have discovered they do not have enough food to last the entire month.

Luckily, Ruthie participates in the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP). This monthly program provides seniors age 60 and older with a supplemental box of food each month.

As long as a senior meet the income requirements for the program, he or she can receive the free box of food. Each box contains a specific amount of items, including:

• two boxes of cereal
• a bag of either rice or pasta
• a jar of peanut butter or dry beans
• four cans of vegetables
• two cans of fruit
• two 64-ounce containers of juice
• one can of protein, which can vary from beef stew to chili or chicken
• two 32-ounce containers of milk
• a brick of cheese

The variety of the items may differ from month to month, but it is this basic assortment of these food staples.

The seniors are also given a nutrition education sheet, which includes a puzzle and a recipe that features an item in the box.

Ruthie not only relies on her own box, but she serves as an advocate for the other seniors in her building. She is a very active member of her church and acts as the Tennant Association Board President of her building.

Ruthie makes sure that everyone who qualifies for a CSFP box of food has signed up and receives their food in a timely manner.

Ruthie is just one of more than 8500 seniors who receive this box on a monthly basis. The St. Louis Area Foodbank delivers the CSFP or “senior boxes” to each individual’s apartment complex or to a pantry in St. Louis city and county in Missouri and in St. Clair and Madison counties in Illinois.

Over the last several years, many seniors have found themselves in the same situation as Ruthie. The need for food security is increasing in the senior community at an alarming rate.

Ruthie and her neighbors have often commented how thankful they are for receiving such a gift every month. It really helps them stretch their other means of nutrition a little further.

They wait patiently in the lobby of their building every month on the day their boxes are due to be delivered, anxious to discover what awaits them this month.

Suzi Seeker

    Suzi Seeker is the CSFP Agency Relations Coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank

 

Tator Tots and Jon Stewart – Celebrating America When Times Are Tough

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The American flag flies high above the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater / Photo by Bethany Prange

It has been a difficult few years.

Terms like layoff, poverty and hunger have become so familiar it’s hard to remember a time when the economy wasn’t troubled.

Current temperatures in the St. Louis region are hovering above 100 degrees as we approach the Fourth of July. The drought has caused many towns to cancel their annual fireworks display – and in some cases, their entire celebration.

These are reasons enough to feel a little less than enthusiastic about a mid-summer holiday.

But before you cancel your barbecue and climb under the covers to hibernate through this Independence Day, let’s take a moment to remember the things that make America so great.

• Americans are a generous lot.  We are a group of people who steps up to volunteer and donate to those less fortunate, even when we are struggling ourselves.  At the St. Louis Area Foodbank alone, more than 12,000 people volunteer here every year.  Despite their own circumstances, these individuals spend countless hours sorting and repacking food for families in need.

• Americans are clever folks. We’ve invented so many brilliant things – the Internet, toilet paper, the telephone, the artificial heart – we can forgive ourselves for reality television.

• Americans are free! Sure, we may not always like what our government does, but we live in a place where we’re free to shout about it from the rooftop. Better still, we can vote to change what we don’t like.

• Americans are resilient. As a country, we’ve faced adversity since we were born, but we just keep marching on. We’re a scrappy bunch and proud of it!

America put a man on the moon and brought the world iconic figures like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and classic designs like the 1966 Ford Mustang convertible.  From apple pie and baseball to Jon Stewart, we’ve got food, sports and entertainment in the bag.

And just in case you’re still not sure it’s great to be an American, CNN has a fun list of 100 things that make America great. Sure, they included Texas linedancing and the Dougie, but it’s still a fantastic list of unique things about this great country.

So as we approach Independence Day, let’s remember the awesomeness of being American. Even when things are tough, we still have tater tots and chocolate chip cookies!

Bethany Prange is the communications coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank