After visiting a local food bank on a school trip, I was surprised to see the limited fresh produce options for families utilizing area food banks.
I know shelf-stable items are easier for the average person to donate during a food drive, and more practical for food pantries to store. But I also know how important fresh fruit and vegetables are to a healthy diet!
I decided I wanted to make a difference in my community in the fight for food justice.
My interest in gardening was peaked when I read about Katie’s Krops, a non-profit organization that encourages youth to grow vegetables and fruit to feed the hungry in their communities. Read more
Hunger does not discriminate. It exists everywhere. And it only exists because we allow it.
We can solve hunger.
But charity cannot fight this fight alone.
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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.
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.
Here at the St. Louis Area Foodbank we have been talking a lot about a new Feeding America initiative called “Foods to Encourage.” The program will launch later this year, and will help organizations like ours focus even more on the quality of the food we distribute, in addition to the quantity of food we distribute to people in need. The new program will follow the USDA’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: My Plate structure.
This got me thinking about what I was putting on my own plate. I have always been a pretty healthy eater, but I was still eating more processed foods than I should. In the past, I have used fitness apps to track what I’m eating. But even the best of those apps seemed to fall short when it came rating the nutritional quality of the food I was eating. Most only reported some nutritional values and a calorie count. While they encourage me to eat less, they didn’t actually encourage me to eat more of the whole fresh foods recommended by the USDA.
Then I discover the Fooducate app in a tweet by A Place at the Table Movie. The Fooducate app was exactly what I had been looking for and best of all it was free. This app grades each food based on its nutritional content. With just a few clicks on my phone, Fooducate reports not just how many calories a food item has, but also if it is actually providing your body with the nutrients and fuel it needs to thrive.
You can customize the app to grade food based on a variety of options, such as allergies you may have to nuts or gluten, or whether you’re hoping to stick to a vegan or vegetarian diet. Like the other nutrition apps I have used in the past, you can log your excercise and weight to keep track of your progress. This handy feature helps keep you motivated. Watch Fooducate’s video.
The only cons with the app is that it lacks two main features of most nutrition apps; social integration and a desktop version.
The Dave Matthews Band hits St. Louis tonight, July 10, 2013, with their summer 2013 tour!
This legendary band will not only provide a night of great live music at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, but they’ll also be fighting hunger and promoting environmental awareness.
The Dave Matthews Band has partnered with REVERB, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, in a massive endeavor called the BamaGreen Project. Locally, they’re partnering with us here at the St. Louis Area Foodbank!
“The BamaGreen partnership between REVERB, Dave Matthews Band and IZSTYLE began almost 10 years ago, in 2006,” says Paige Roth, volunteer coordinator at REVERB. “In the past we have coordinated coat drives and promoted other causes; this is the first summer focused specifically on food issues.”
At tonight’s concert in St. Louis, Dave Matthews Band will ask fans to bring non-perishable food donations to the show. The St. Louis Area Foodbank will be there to collect food donations outside the main gates.
Once inside the gates, fans can support the Foodbank and hunger relief at the Eco-Village by purchasing a custom Dave Matthews Band basil seed packet for $5.
The Foodbank will use that $5 donation to purchase local produce for St. Louis-area families in need. It’s a great partnership all around!
“Fighting food insecurity and promoting local agriculture are issues that are important to both the Dave Matthews Band and REVERB,” Roth says. “We are excited because this program will connect food resources for people in need with local agriculture, in a meaningful way.”
Ways you can get involved:
- Donate non-perishable food items at the concert
- Carpool to the show
- Visit the Eco-Village at the show
- Buy food from your local farms as often as possible
- Connect with the St. Louis Area Foodbank to donate or volunteer
BamaGreen Project is an on-going partnership between Dave Matthews Band, Reverb and IZSTYLE. It encompasses all of the environmental efforts undertaken by the band while on the road, in the studio or at home. In addition to working with the band, the BamaGreen Project is also dedicated to educating DMB fans around the world about how to take simple positive environmental actions.
REVERB is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 2004 by environmentalist Lauren Sullivan and her musician husband, Adam Gardner of Guster. Reverb provides turn-key greening programs for artists’ tours while conducting grassroots outreach and education with music fans everywhere.
The folks at the St. Louis Area Foodbank are a lot of things…
We’re mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. We’re loyal St. Louisans and Cardinals baseball fans (most of us anyway).
We’re also patriotic Americans, and not just on the Fourth of July.
So how do we bleed red, white and blue year-round?
For starters, we try to work with and support organizations that provide services to our U.S. military veterans. Here’s how:
- In September 2012, the Foodbank distributed more than 28,000 pounds of fresh produce, canned goods and personal care items to 200 veterans and their families at the Stand Down for Veterans event at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Marion, Ill.
- In September 2013, the Foodbank will once again distribute these items at the Marion Stand Down event.
- At three separate events – held April 28, 2012, November 3, 2012, and April 20, 2013 – the Foodbank distributed more than 15,000 pounds of personal care items, canned goods and easy-to-open foods to veterans in need at the Soldier’s Memorial in St. Louis. More than 300 veterans were served at each event! Check out the photos on Facebook »
- At upcoming Stand Down for Veterans events in our region, we have added wool blankets to the products we will give out to veterans!
In addition to the Stand Down events, the Foodbank also partners with various veterans organizations, including Operation Homefront, to distribute food and furniture to veterans and their families.
Through our Transitional Housing program, we provide a one-month supply of food and household supplies to individuals – including veterans – moving from the street or a shelter to a permanent home.
We are proud to help those who have served our country. Tomorrow, Foodbank staff will honor those veterans and show our American pride by participating in the 33rd annual July 4 parade in Bridgeton!
The theme this year is St. Louis traditions – and for Foodbank staff, creating a better community for all Americans IS our tradition!
Join us tomorrow at this family-friendly event to celebrate! The parade begins at 10 a.m. Thursday July 4, 2013, at the corner of Lockport and Benedetta. The parade will proceed on Benedetta to Tideland, then turn on Majella then left on Natural Bridge, ending at the Target/Machinist Hall parking lot.
If you’re one of the millions of American traveling over the holiday weekend, please check out these safe travel tips from Affton Patch and insurance.com.
Have a happy and safe Independence Day!
Summertime means fresh fruits and veggies at local farmers markets, in your own garden, and even right here at the St. Louis Area Foodbank.
This week, the Foodbank held two food fairs – one-day food distributions to several hundred families in need. At those events, we were lucky enough to give out tens of thousands of pounds of fresh produce.
On Wednesday, Foodbank drivers and staff delivered 26,215 pounds of food to Owensville, Mo. Included in that food was an amazing 18,380 pounds of fresh produce!
More than 180 families in need received fresh-picked corn, watermelon, potatoes, cantaloupe, strawberries and onions. A special thanks to Rep. Tom Hurst and the staff of Rep. Dave Schatz for helping volunteers hand out the food! See the photos on Facebook »
On Thursday, Foodbank staff visited Irvington, Ill., where we handed out more than 26,000 pounds of food to more than 170 families.
At the food fair in this small Illinois town, individuals struggling with hunger received carloads of canned goods, fresh corn, cantaloupe, onions, watermelon, cabbage and potatoes. Check out the photos on Facebook »
We are especially grateful to the volunteers and pantry staff who help us hand out food on these hot summer days.
We are also grateful to you – the donors – who provide the funds we need to be able to provide fresh produce to families in need!
Would you like to help provide more healthy food for our communities most vulnerable families. Donate now »