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Volunteer Spotlight: Joe Venable

Joe Venable has been coming to volunteer at the St. Louis Area Foodbank for 5 years.

He brings a group of 12 -15 volunteers from Scott Air Force Base with him, and they are very appreciated in our Volunteer Center.

“Whenever we see that Joe’s group is on the schedule, we know we’ve got to have a lot of work to do to keep them busy,” said Harry Steen, the Volunteer Center Manager at the Foodbank.

Saturday, October 7, was Joe’s last volunteer shift at the Foodbank because he’s moving to Colorado. Although we’re sad to see him go, we’re happy for this new opportunity in his life and the positive impact he’s had here at the Foodbank.

Joe first came to volunteer in 2012, and he resonated with the fact that veterans were included in the over 392,000 people the Foodbank serves each year. He loves to see younger generations getting involved in the Volunteer Center, and believes that instilling the habit of giving back early in kids is important.

“None of this would have been possible without the great men and women from Scott Air Force Base,” Joe said of his regular group of volunteers. Good luck with all you do, Joe! You will be missed!

Decatur’s Farm Bill Listening Session

This year the House Agriculture Committee has hosted Listening Sessions all across the country to hear from key stakeholders as they prepare to draft and pass a new Farm Bill in 2018.

The Farm Bill is a massive piece of legislation that establishes programs and appropriates funding for everything from agricultural research to crop insurance to federal nutrition programs like SNAP (formerly food stamps). St. Louis Area Foodbank Outreach Coordinator, Ashley Rube, traveled to Decatur, IL on August 30th to testify at one of these Listening Sessions and advocate for the programs that provide vital resources to the nation’s food insecure. Read her testimony below or watch the hearing in full (see Ashley at 1:58:45)!

 

My name is Ashley Rube. I work at the St. Louis Area Foodbank, which serves 26 counties across both Missouri and Illinois. We are a member food bank of Feeding America, and we are privileged to work with 500 local agencies across our service territory that put life-changing resources into the hands of our neighbors in need.

With their help, we distributed over 42 million pounds of food last year to 392,000 individuals including senior citizens, veterans, working parents, and, our single largest food insecure population, children.

And their need persists. During the Foodbank’s first year of operation in 1975, it distributed roughly 160,000 pounds of food. We now move that much food every day. We have grown over the past 42 years to better address the need in our communities, but with 1 in 6 people in our region facing hunger, we cannot meet the need that exists on our own.

My church in St. Louis operates a food pantry that partners with the Foodbank. During each Sunday service the prayer requests of the pantry guests are shared aloud. They pray for better health, for stable work, and for safer living situations for their families. They pray for our elected officials. And they offer thanksgiving for upcoming job interviews, hopeful medical diagnoses, and the generosity of neighbors.

The people we serve are struggling to put food on the table. And when their need is met at the pantry, they can focus on all of the other parts of life we all need to thrive – from steady employment to healthy lifestyles, and even civic engagement..

Those of us here today – from farmers to food bankers and members of the Agriculture Committee – we know that food is where it all starts. Meeting this most basic need makes so much more possible

Food makes the difference. And thanks to the partnership of the federal government, those of us at the Foodbank make a bigger difference in our region. Nearly 20% of the foods we distribute are provided through The Emergency Food Assistance Program. All told, federal nutrition programs provide over a quarter of all the food we send out of our warehouse, and these foods are among the most nutritious we offer.

The nutrition programs contained in the Farm Bill – from TEFAP to SNAP – are vital in every sense of the word. They mean food on people’s tables, which means fuel for good work and healthier lives.

Despite our growth as a food bank, there is still need in Missouri and Illinois we cannot meet. But together – with a strong Farm Bill, fully funded nutrition programs, and conscientious policies – we can.

I ask, on behalf of my colleagues at the St. Louis Area Foodbank, our community partners, and the families we serve, to please thoughtfully consider how this Farm Bill can preserve and bolster our nation’s commitment to eliminating hunger. We thank you for your partnership and remain eager to collaborate with you for the good of all our communities.

Dustin’s Story

As a lifelong sports fan, Dustin knows hard work and practice make perfect.

That’s why he maintains a blog where he can sharpen his writing skills and work towards his dream job in sports broadcasting. A former football player and now a coach to his community’s high school football team, Dustin has plenty to write about. And when he isn’t writing or coaching, he is pursuing his substitute teaching certification.

Dustin’s perseverance has paid off, but that hasn’t made the journey easy. In December of 2008, Dustin was involved in a car accident that would affect his mobility and plans long term. He had to put the completion of his sports communication degree on hold for nearly three years in order to focus on his recovery and to rethink his future.

Almost ten years later, Dustin is taking all he’s learned and dreaming bigger than ever. And Dustin will be the first to tell you he hasn’t made it this far on his own.

In 2015 he visited the Highland Area Christian Service Ministry for the first time to receive some assistance collecting his social security income. While there, Dustin learned about the ministry’s food pantry. Dustin has since visited the food pantry one to two times each month to collect the healthy foods that sustain his active life. “I eat a lot of peanut butter. Probably more than most people you know. I get my peanut butter from [the food pantry] – it’s a good source of protein.”

HACSM also helped Dustin apply for a Link Card (food stamps) so he can round out his diet with nutritious purchases from the grocery store. Some foods, like Activia yogurt, are critical for Dustin’s health and rehabilitation, so he’s grateful for the opportunity to choose what he needs when he needs it.

As busy as he is, Dustin always makes time for family. “I’ve been trying to make it a point to get to a family or friend’s house for dinner, and there’s usually kids there, and I stay on top of them about making a happy plate and telling them ‘Brushing your teeth may not sound important, but it will pay off if you do it in the long run’”

Dustin explains that a “happy plate” is what you have when you finish your meal. Happily, Dustin has a lot on his plate, from a burgeoning career to an active social life. Thanks to the staff and volunteers at the Highland Area Christian Service Ministry food pantry, Dustin has a lot on his dinner plate, too. “People never know when they’re going to need something like this. It is unbelievable how many different lives and families that I see the Highland Food [Pantry] impact positively!”

Political, not Partisan: Signing on with other Nonprofits to Stay Accountable

We’ve signed another letter to lawmakers, but not one about safety-net programs. Let’s talk about why.

Political action – what we describe at the St. Louis Area Foodbank as “advocacy” – is a critical part of what we do. We work hard to address hungry people’s immediate needs and to work towards eliminating hunger in our community, and we cannot do that without being politically engaged. After all, how can we work towards a hunger-free future if we don’t work with our leaders and try to inform the laws that shape that future?  And so we support the policies that strengthen hunger-relief programs and oppose those that threaten them.

So we are political. We work with the public, other nonprofits, and the government; it’s unavoidable.

But being politically active and being politically partisan is not the same thing.

As a nonprofit organization we are firmly nonpartisan, and this makes sense because hunger is a nonpartisan issue. Viable solutions demand everybody’s participation and cooperation, and we want to remain a safe and trustworthy place for the public that supports us, the volunteers that visit us, and the agencies that work alongside us.

But in February during the National Prayer Breakfast, the president promised to undo the Johnson Amendment, a section of tax law that ensures nonprofits steer clear of partisan politics. In fact, several bills have already been introduced in Congress this year that would nearly or completely do just that.

This provision requires that organizations with tax-exempt status – charitable nonprofits, foundations, and religious organizations – “not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

In other words, as the law now stands, our work and funding must remain focused on feeding hungry people, not on the success or failure of any politicians. Our ability to pursue political action is limited and clearly defined, ensuring that the public support we receive is being spent on our mission and not on partisan politics. If the law changes, however, we could be targeted by political campaigns for support or donations. And worse, we could lose the public’s trust – trust we need to keep our shelves stocked and our neighbors’ bellies full.

And that’s why we joined nonprofit organizations across the nation and signed a letter initiated by the National Council of Nonprofits urging our lawmakers to protect the laws that protect nonprofits and hold us accountable.

Hunger, after all, is everybody’s problem. Why drag it into the political mire and dilute critical hunger-relief work with partisanship?

Read more about the Johnson Amendment, the proposed bills, and the letter we’ve signed here. And stay connected with us for updates about our political – not partisan – actions.

National School Breakfast Week

This week is National School Breakfast Week, spotlighting the benefits of school breakfast for kids across the country.

The School Breakfast Program (SBP) is designed to give students affordable access to food at the start of each school day, which promotes better learning outcomes as well as happier, healthier kids. Fortunately, like school lunches, school breakfast is heavily subsidized or free for students from low-income families.

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But even as we celebrate this important federal program, we cannot help but take note of troubling recommendations coming from the House of Representatives.

On January 23rd a bill titled “Choices in Education Act of 2017” was introduced in the United States House of Representatives. The first half of this bill (H.R.610) repeals the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, replacing it with an educational voucher program.

As introduced, Title II of the bill – the “No Kid Hungry Act” – also repeals a 2012 rule established by the USDA that enforces nutritional standards for the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. These standards – designed to support student health through better, more balanced nutrition – require schools to offer more fruits & vegetables, whole grains, and low or fat-free milk while limiting the amount of sodium, saturated fats, and trans fats in school meals. The standards also provide guidelines for meeting the caloric needs of students at different ages and stages of development.

At the St. Louis Area Foodbank, 31% of the people we serve are children, 95% of whom participate in the National School Lunch Program. These students rely on food from school to make up for shortfalls at home, which puts schools in a unique position to provide for kids’ nutritional needs.

According to a 2016 report from The Pew Charitable Trusts, “[s]tudies of schools in three states—Connecticut, Texas, and Washington—show that under the updated standards, children’s eating habits are improving […] Students of all ages are choosing lunches higher in nutritional quality and lower in calories per gram and consuming more fruits and larger shares of their entrees and vegetables.”

This is great and important news for children suffering from food insecurity, but this progress might be short lived if nutritional standards are rolled back.

The National School Lunch Program is one of the country’s most important safety net programs, one that helps kids who might otherwise face serious nutritional deficits in adolescence and the many long term consequences of hunger as adults.

While H.R.610 has only recently been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and while it is far too soon to tell if this bill will rouse much support in the House or Senate, it does raise serious questions about how we support the most vulnerable kids in our communities.

Hunger – especially child hunger – is a bi-partisan issue that demands our best thinking and effort. We will continue to follow this bill and others concerning the hunger safety-net and child nutrition in the weeks and months to come. We invite you to join us.

Check back often for more legislative updates as we work together to fight hunger in our community.

Perryville Pillow Talk

Our neighbors in Perryville have had some rough nights of sleep, so we’re sending pillows!

Early this week, we were happy to receive pallets of pillows that were donated because they were mismarked and couldn’t be sold in retail stores. We started distributing the pillows to transitional housing programs, but when we heard about the tornado emergency in Perryville, MO, we wanted to help. We worked with Salvation Army to load up two of their trucks with new pillows for those affected by the Perryville tornado Tuesday night.

We were glad to be involved and send help however we could. We didn’t know that the pillows we received as a donation would be needed this week, but we were happy to take them knowing they’d find good homes somewhere.

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Many people don’t realize that we take donations of all kinds, or that we distributed over one million pounds of non-food items last year. These include household cleaning items, emergency response items, personal care and child care items. All of these are among the most requested items for families in need, and we’re proud to distribute them.

Thank you to Salvation Army for helping us help others rest easy!

Signing-On for Strong Policy

2017 brings with it enormous change to the political landscape, from a new president and Congress to new state and local leadership. While so much change can feel disruptive and unpredictable, it also opens up abundant opportunities for advocacy on behalf of the people we serve and the causes we stand behind. That’s why the Foodbank is busy at work, forging relationships with our new leadership and supporting the anti-hunger programs – like SNAP, CSFP, and TEFAP – upon which so many Americans rely.

This month we have already signed on to a letter directed to Illinois’ leadership, joining over 120 of our partners within and beyond our service area to support the programs and legislation we know effectively fight hunger across the country.

As a signee of this letter, we are specifically asking Illinois’ 2 senators and 18 representatives to strengthen federal nutrition programs and protect them against cuts. We are also offering our help in addressing hunger statewide and across the nation.

The St. Louis Area Foodbank has signed this letter because we know the programs it defends work – assisting families struggling to put food on the table, promoting health, helping kids succeed in school, supporting farmers, and boosting local economies.

We have also signed because we believe making our voice heard and working with our elected officials is an essential way forward in the fight against hunger.

Check out the letter here.

And check back often for more news, updates, and ways to make a difference as a hunger advocate!

Make an Impact: Your Generosity Feeds Hungry People

It’s simple — for every dollar donated to the St. Louis Area Foodbank, 97 cents go directly toward feeding the hungry. In fact, working with our network of nearly 500 partner agencies in Missouri and Illinois, the Foodbank provides food assistance to 43,000 people each week; more than 2.4 million meals per month.

meal makers

We are grateful for the food donations the Foodbank receives from individuals, corporations, retailers and community food drives. But the reality is that the Foodbank relies on donors like you to maintain our warehouse, keep the shelves stocked with nutritionally balanced foods and transport that food when and where it’s needed.

Like any household, having a reliable revenue stream allows us to plan more effectively and stretch donations even further. As a supporter of the Foodbank, we hope you’ll consider becoming a monthly donor — a Meal Maker. You can choose an amount that fits with your giving budget to have funds automatically withdrawn from your banking account. Prefer regular mail? Just send in a voided check with instructions for the amount of support you’d like to provide each month. Again, funds will automatically be withdrawn from your account. Your financial donations change lives.

It’s easy to sign up online at www.mealmakers.org.

Pantry Spotlight: Pittsburg Food Pantry

The Pittsburg Food Pantry has served the residents of Williamson County in Illinois for nearly 20 years.

Eight years ago, River Church, at the invitation of the Village of Pittsburg, took over the responsibility of the Pantry, and has run it from their location ever since. The Pantry is open the last

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Saturday of every month from 8:30 – 10:30 a.m. and provides emergency food boxes between distribution days. In addition, it provides blood pressure screenings upon request and helps people fill out requests for SNAP benefits. On average, the Pittsburg Food Pantry feeds 350 people each month.

“We strive to meet any need that we can,” notes the pantry director, Melissa Swayze. “We like to think that our set-up is unique. For example, we load the food for every person that comes in our door; they do not carry it out themselves. We have blood pressure screenings available and can help with just about any situation someone may have. If we cannot help them, we can certainly help get them the information that they may need to find that help.” The Pantry serves people from all types of life situations, including job loss or unexpected expenses that take limited income away from buying food. The organization also has seen an increase in the number of senior citizens coming for food assistance.

A Foodbank partner for the past eight years, Pittsburg Food Pantry receives many types of dry goods, produce, dairy and household items in deliveries twice a month. “These items are greatly important,” says Swayze. “Our Pantry depends heavily on the Foodbank. We would not be able to serve the number of people we do without the Foodbank.”

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