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Pantry Spotlight: Affton Christian Food Pantry

The Affton Christian Food Pantry (ACFP) values the connections they make with their community.

 

“Relationships with people in need are sometimes as important as, if not more than, the food we can give them,” says Dana George, Pantry Manager at ACFP. Serving 100 families every week in the Affton community is no small task, but the staff takes time to know the people they serve. “For instance, I know that Charlotte will be sitting in the chair in the hallway at a quarter ‘til 9 for her 9:30 appointment,” Jennifer Meehan, Executive Director, says as she reflects on the individuals who come through her doors. Recognition like this is important to people like Trisha.

When Trisha and her husband fell on hard times, experiencing a double job loss about a year after their first child was born, they knew they needed help. “A couple very close friends had suggested, while we were job searching, to contact a local food pantry, and I did. And we probably ended up shopping there for six months. That was the best decision I ever made,” Trisha says. The food staples and baby supplies were helpful, but beyond that, Trisha found reassurance in the pantry staff. Trisha remembers, “I met with the service employee, and I remember it was this older gentleman, and it was very difficult for me to say ‘I don’t know what to do. I need help, and we need food.’ He just took my hand and was like, ‘Everything’s gonna be fine. We are here to help you.’ And I’ve always remembered that experience at that pantry.”

Trisha’s experience is what the people at ACFP strive for. Volunteers receive careful training, groceries are carefully organized to make it easy for people in need to access, and everybody is treated with respect. In December, ACFP hosts a Christmas Boutique – an event where some of their patrons get the only gift they’ll receive this season. Tammy Kutrip, a volunteer who helps organize the Christmas Boutique, witnesses the difference this pantry makes for people in her community. “I almost cried the other day. A lady came in and handed me a thank you card and said, ‘I got a job, and this is my last visit here. Thank you so much for everything.’,” Tammy says of a recent encounter she had with a patron. The staff at ACFP have every right to feel good about the difference they make in people’s lives, but they remain humble and grateful for their partnership with the Foodbank and their ability to serve over 8,000 people every year. Dana George says, “We’re thankful for you all because you make what we do possible.”

 

Learn more about AFCP on their website at afftonchristianfoodpantry.com.

Frank’s Farewell Letter

Our President and CEO, Frank Finnegan, has written many letters for our newsletter. His most recent letter was written for our December newsletter, and he shared a pretty big announcement for the Foodbank community.

In the spring of 1980 I was interviewing for a position with a social service agency in Phoenix, Arizona, trying to convince the woman on the other side of the table that I was the best candidate.

I must have said something right because I got the job, but I don’t remember much about the actual interview other than being mesmerized by the woman sitting across the table.

Over the years I’ve used this space to write about the milestones of my life: my daughter growing up, my father playing baseball, and Sunday night family dinners. I’ve told stories of my annual visits to Kansas and of my wife’s grandparents who homesteaded a farm and lived through the dust bowl. I have enjoyed the great privilege of sharing my work and life with you, and now as I look forward to new and exciting chapters still ahead, I have just one final milestone to share with you here.

I have announced to the Foodbank’s Board of Directors that I am retiring, telling them that leading this organization has been one of the greatest honors of my life. I have been blessed in so many ways, among them spending my working years doing something I believe makes a real difference while working alongside talented people I respect and admire.

There are too many individuals to thank in this space, but I’d like to at least recognize some collectively: our staff members, already recognized by their leadership within the national food bank network for continually striving to improve; the Board of Directors for their guidance, counsel and commitment – being able to discuss the changing dynamics of the organization with the members of the Board all while learning from their experience and trusting in their support, is a gift I truly treasure; and of course, our volunteers and donors, the lifeblood that allows us to do the work that remains so important for people in need.

Last but never least, I want to thank the woman on the other side of table – my wife, Judy. She hired me in 1980, believed in me, and eventually agreed to travel through life by my side, making it richer and more fulfilling than I ever imagined that day so many years ago. As I have for the last 36 years, I’ll continue to share my story and my life with a woman I still find completely mesmerizing.

I’m also confident that the next person to lead the Foodbank will take the organization to heights I haven’t yet imagined.

As always, thanks for your support and trust.
– Frank

Feeding Hope in Williamson County

Last month, one of our Agency Relations Coordinators, Melanie Hager, was able to go above and beyond for a woman in need in Williamson County, Illinois. Below she shares her story.

I was at Williamson County Programs on Aging conducting a CSFP training/meeting with our contact, MaryJane Fuller. She had just met with a woman and was very shook up after their meeting.

Mrs. Fuller had explained to me that the woman and her husband, 64, were living off of less than $600 a month, that they received through her disability benefit. She is disabled due to working in construction her whole life. Her husband is also disabled but has been denied the disability benefit on multiple occasions. This couple is barely surviving, eating only three meals a week because all of their income was going toward their utility bills and medication.

When the woman returned to the office to turn in her paperwork I asked if she was able to sit down and talk with me, she agreed and I had her reiterate her story.

After she was finished, I began spouting off all of the different programs that she would be eligible for: Soup Kitchens, Pantries, SNAP, CSFP, LIHEAP Energy Assistance, Medical Assistance, Temporary Cash and Social Security.

She was overwhelmed with the amount of information we were able to supply her with. She was not aware of all of these services or that you can begin collecting social security at 62, they were under the impression that it was 65.

We were then able to sign her and her husband up for the CSFP Senior Box Program, as well as SNAP, LIHEAP Energy Assistance, Medical Assistance, Temporary Cash, Prescription Assistance, Referred to Pantries and Soup Kitchens and even getting the ball rolling on Social Security Benefits.

She was in tears and full of gratitude. She hugged us both continuously and was extremely grateful for all of the services that we were able to provide her with. As tears fell from all of our eyes she thanked us for everything we had done. She did not realize that these services were provided, especially in a rural community. It was a beautiful moment to share this information with her and to show her that the Foodbank isn’t just about food. Connecting people to resources can change lives.

Days like this truly help me appreciate my job!

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!

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