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A Festival of Friends

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This past weekend, the St. Louis Area Foodbank’s Young Professionals Board (YPB) partnered with Moulin Events & Meetings on their sixth annual Centennial Beer Festival.

Members of the YPB, along with Foodbank staff, were there to help direct crowd traffic and promote hunger awareness. The event organizer, Jason Arnold, is a former Foodbank Board member and current partner at Moulin and its sister establishments – Vin de Set and PW Pizza.

The festival was a great introduction to events for our newly-formed and growing YPB.

In addition to a minimum contribution from the organizers, they offered a raffle in which attendees could win $500 worth of the more than 200 different festival beers on hand.

Going in, I assumed selling chancesto win beer to folks attending a beer festival wouldn’t be too tough a task. My assumption was right on – we raised more than $2,000 – but I’ll admit I was surprised at how many of the 1,400 attendees already knew about the Foodbank and how many were interested in what we do.

Hundreds stopped by the Foodbank table my wife and I staffed on Saturday and nearly everyone asked about our food supply or added some anecdotal history they had with the Foodbank.

I was also touched that so many took a pass on the raffle and just simply made a contribution to our cause. The teaming with Jason and the Centennial Beer Festival was certainly a success and one that we look forward to growing in years to come.

Everything we do as an organization has a direct goal of providing food to someone in need and this event was no exception. The $2,000 raised will help us bring in nearly $18,000 worth of food to the area.

In addition to the funds raised, this event served another purpose. The YPB has recently launched a “Friends of the Foodbank” initiative to attract those interested in small networking events that engage people in hunger relief.

Our kick-off event for the Friends group will be held at the Foodbank on Thursday, March 6, 2014.

For more information, or to attend, please visit www.stlfoodbank.org/get-involved/friends.

Cheers!

By Matt Dace

Senior Vice President at the St. Louis Area Foodbank

It All Adds Up

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I’m fat.Technically, I’m probably considered obese.
I don’t say this because I’m fishing for the obligatory “no you’re not.”I say this because, well, it’s true.

I gained more than 100 pounds during the nine months of my pregnancy. And since my son’s birth in August 2013, I’ve only managed to lose about 30 of those pounds.

I share these intimate details because it occurs to me that there is a misconception in our country about obesity.

Common sense would dictate that a country full of obese individuals could not also simultaneously be a country full of hungry people.

Recent studies have shown that yes, obese people can still be the same people struggling with hunger and food insecurity. They struggle to buy and eat foods that fulfill their nutritional requirements.

I realize this fact is counterintuitive.

It would seem rational to assume that someone who is overweight obviously isn’t having trouble finding food to eat.

But here’s the skinny – pardon the pun.

I myself have a real problem with eating the wrong foods for the wrong reasons.

If I’m stressed out, upset or emotional, my instinctive reaction is to reach for a comfort food, whether it is French fries, macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes.

We are a culture of food, so it seems reasonable that when we’re under duress we crave the comfort of a tangible reminder of happier moments.

Say what you want about willpower, but when I’m sad or stressed, I don’t really care what those fries are doing to my hips.

So if I turn to junk food for comfort in my meager moments of stress, imagine the emotional eating habits of someone who faces overwhelming daily worries about unemployment, homelessness or overdue bills.

It’s also true that healthier foods require two things that low-income folks don’t have in abundance – time and money.

I myself am guilty of running through the drive through for a cheeseburger simply because after caring for a baby and working a full day, I don’t have the time or energy to go the grocery store, buy supplies, and prepare a healthy meal at home.

While the “plan-ahead” and “prep on the weekend” ideas are helpful, they’re not always feasible for me, let alone someone working two jobs.

And when it comes to the cost of food, healthy food just costs more. Yes, yes you can buy a bag of lettuce for $2. But while a $2 cheeseburger can fill you up, a bag of lettuce cannot. Or at least it doesn’t fill me up.

Even if time and money are available for healthier foods, there’s one more factor. Now, I won’t fib and say that I don’t “know” why and how to eat better.

But for some low-income folks this is just plain true. Sure, with all the media attention, most food insecure families probably know about the health consequences of poor eating habits.

But there’s a very good chance they don’t know how to go about improving their nutritional intake. The Food Network aside, there’s also a good chance some of these families have never learned how or what to cook. They don’t know what foods are both affordable and healthy. They may not have the time to search to peruse Pinterest for recipes.

Maybe they don’t even have the time or desire to worry about such things. I’m not much of a cook myself, so I can relate.

But while I have a support network and the option to join a gym, low-income folks do not. They already have a full plate, just trying to get by.

So, consider all these factors before you raise an eyebrow at an obviously overweight person at the food pantry or in line at the grocery store paying for food with food stamps.

As for me, well I don’t have any excuses that are nearly as sound.

Still, don’t judge me if I indulge in cheese fries now and then.

By Bethany Prange

Communications Coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank

Everyone Deserves a Treat

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“All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt!”

Lucy Van Pelt

In Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz

The St. Louis Area Foodbank distributed more than 34 million pounds of product this past fiscal year.

Eighty-eight percent of those pounds were nutritional foods – think meats, dairy, fruits and veggies.

So then, what the heck is in that last four million pounds?

In addition to the nutritional food we receive, we also bring in donations that include health and beauty products, household items, snacks and desserts.

Though we obviously prefer the healthier, high-nutrition foods, we know that struggling families need shampoo and paper towels, just like the rest of us.

Procuring candy donations isn’t a high priority for us. But we do believe that every person, regardless of their socio-economic status, deserves to treat themselves.

I can speak from personal experience when I say that a cookie or sweet after a healthy meal hits the spot!

What kind of birthday would a kid have without a birthday cake? How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day without a little chocolate or candy hearts?

The St. Louis Area Foodbank receives candy and desserts from our retail partners whenever the items are close to the best-by date.

We tend to get big donations of candy after all major holidays. We get a variety – holiday-themed candy considered unsellable by our stores, candy with misprinted packaging, or a new flavor that wasn’t a big seller.

We are fortunate to have The Hershey Company as a partner of Feeding America and its member food banks.

In fiscal year 2013, the Foodbank received 70,000 pounds from Hershey. So far this year, we have received nearly 14,000 pounds of goods from Hershey. The items we receive from Hershey generally come directly from their Midwest Distribution Center in Edwardsville, Ill.

As a Foodbank, we are glad to accept these items and distribute them to our agencies in a timely manner, instead of seeing them thrown away.

Giving someone the ability to receive such a special treat for Valentine’s Day is truly rewarding. We may not be that person’s “Valentine” per se, but surely we hope to have brightened their day when they are handed a chocolate sweet.

This Valentine’s Day, consider skipping the giant box of chocolate and buying a smaller one. With the extra money, donate to help us share a little love with families in need.

By Shannon O’Connor

Product Sourcing Manager at the St. Louis Area Foodbank

Resources for Families Receiving SNAP

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Last week, Congress finally passed a new Farm Bill after three years of negotiations.

The final piece of legislation outlines an $8 billion reduction in benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as food stamps). The cuts will be made over a 10-year period.

This translates to a cut of up to $90 a month in benefits for families in need. Some highlights from the bill can be found here – http://feedingamericasd.org/farm-bill-passes-house-senate-week/

This additional reduction comes on the heels of the November 1, 2013 cuts that were made to SNAP. These cuts occurred when so many families across Illinois and Missouri were already struggling to put food on the table.

If you or someone you know will be or has been affected by the food stamp cuts, here are some helpful resources from U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hopefully these tips and tools can help families in need stretch their limited food budget even further.

• Eating on a Budget – The Three P’s
http://www.choosemyplate.gov/downloads/PlanPurchasePrepare.pdf

• Smart Shopping for Veggies and Fruits
http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/TenTips/DGTipsheet9SmartShopping.pdf

• 30 Ways in 30 Days to Stretch Your Fruit & Vegetable Budget
http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/fruitsvegetables/index.html

• How to Eat Right When Money’s Tight
http://snap.nal.usda.gov/snap/EatRightWhenMoneysTight.pdf

• Eating Better on a Budget
http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/TenTips/DGTipsheet16EatingBetterOnABudget.pdf

• SNAP Retail Locator
http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/retailerlocator

Additional assistance can also be found by calling United Way’s 2-1-1 hotline or visiting a St. Louis Area Foodbank partner agency in your area.

By Andrea Hale

IL SNAP/CSFP at the St. Louis Area Foodbank

St. Louis Business Journal

On February 7, 2014, the St. Louis Business Journal released their list of the largest nonprofits in the area. The St. Louis Area Foodbank was proud to crack the top 10 based on fiscal year 2013 operating budget, coming in at number 8 overall.

Independent auditors assign a value of $1.69 per pound on the food that comes in and goes out of our warehouse in Bridgeton, along with our cash operating budget. As our distribution totals increase (nearly 35 million pounds distributed in FY2013), so does our operating budget.

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In addition to our ranking on the list, reporter Nicholas Ledden from the Business Journal also went back and took a look at this list from five years ago. He calculated which organizations showed the greatest percentage increase in operating budget over that time (fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2013). The St. Louis Area Foodbank tops that list with a 138.02% increase ($27,907,780 in 2008 to $66,427,014 for 2013).

An abbreviated interview with St. Louis Area Foodbank President and CEO, Frank Finnegan, accompanied the list in the printed version of the paper. The full interview is below:

So your operating budget has seen some significant growth over the last five years. To what do you attribute the increase?
We asked the community to support our capital campaign when we moved into our current facility in Bridgeton in 2006. We stated then that the additional space would allow us to significantly increase food distribution to hungry families in our community. The year before we launched the capital campaign, we distributed 12 million pounds of food and personal care items. Over the last five years we’ve made good on our original promise, going from 20 million pounds in fiscal year 2009 to nearly 35 million pounds in fiscal year 2013. Auditors assign a value to the food and personal care items we distribute, so as the amount of pounds we distribute increases, so does our operating budget. We have also invested heavily in infrastructure updates that have significantly improved the efficiency of our operation. Our distribution models have evolved as well, so much so that now more than 50 percent of the product we distribute is delivered directly to our partner agencies. As a result, we have tripled the number of trucks we have on the road.

Do you have expansion plans for 2014?
Although we’re on pace to increase distribution by six percent this year, our primary focus has shifted to the nutritional value of the product. We plan to improve the nutritional component of our distribution by increasing the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables.

How would you rate the organization’s fiscal 2013? Highlights?
We had the single largest year-over-year distribution increase in our history – 26 percent. However, as proud as we are of that accomplishment, we are just as pleased that we also achieved our goal of establishing an operating reserve that will help sustain the Foodbank’s long-term viability. Volunteers are vital to our operation. In 2013, we saw a record number of volunteers come through our doors to help us repackage the food we distribute. To accommodate that growth, we added an additional parking lot at our facility.

What have you identified as the organization’s single greatest opportunity for continued growth?
Since the food industry donates excess product, donations to the Foodbank follow food industry trends. Manufacturers and producers have made significant progress in eliminating mistakes, so donations are trending more in the area of fresh fruits and vegetables. That’s a happy coincidence for the Foodbank as fresh produce is exactly what is needed to improve the diets of the people we’re serving.

What is the organization’s impact on the community? Has that impact grown over the last five years as well?
We are the primary food source for the majority of our 512 partner agencies, which include food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other nonprofits who feed those in need throughout our 26-county service territory in Missouri and Illinois. Demand for food assistance has grown due to the economic downturn and the evolution of the workforce from good-paying blue-collar jobs to lower-paying and part-time jobs in the service sector. For the first time, working age people now make up the majority of U.S. households that rely on food stamps, primarily as a result of a slow economic recovery, high unemployment and stagnant wages. Unfortunately, as the number of families in need continues to rise, our impact becomes even greater.

Biggest challenge going into 2014?
Our biggest challenge is to improve on the already impressive growth and progress achieved last year. Hunger is an ongoing problem, and it doesn’t discriminate. It affects young and old, all races and religions; it’s prevalent in our cities as well as rural counties. Our biggest challenge is to convince people hunger only exists because we allow it. We don’t lack for food in this country; we lack the political will to simply end it.

Access to the online version of the list and the interview with Frank Finnegan require a subscription to the St. Louis Business Journal.

Share the Love

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Like many holidays, Valentine’s Day changes meaning as we age.

In grade school, you probably exchanged candy with classmates. Maybe those little chalky hearts that say “Be Mine.”

Teachers probably encouraged you to design and color a card for your parents or grandparents.

Later in adolescence, you may have begun to question the validity of the holiday. Perhaps you even protested against celebrating it.

This rite of passage usually ends with a return to celebrating the holiday, particularly by the time you’re old enough to have a boyfriend or girlfriend.

The longevity of the holiday can be verified by the Greeting Card Association, who claims that 145 million greeting cards are bought for Valentine’s Day each year in the United States.

That means two cards are given to every five people in the United States!

No matter what your age, Valentine’s Day is about showing your love for someone else. Maybe you show your love with greeting cards, candies, flowers or dinners. Or maybe you even offer a “free” gesture of love like doing the dishes or giving a foot rub.

You can also show your love on Valentine’s Day by loving your community. Open your heart to those less fortunate, and please consider making a secure, online gift to the St. Louis Area Foodbank in honor of a loved one.

For the price of one $3 greeting card, we can provide 12 meals to your neighbors in need of a little extra love.

By Patrick Delhougne

Development associate at the St. Louis Area Foodbank.