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We Want To Hear From You

Have you ever needed help providing food for your family? Have you received food from a food pantry? Have you ever used food stamps?

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If you answered yes to any of these questions – even if your experience was years ago – we’d love to hear from you. We use these firsthand accounts to help educate the world about hunger in the St. Louis area. Hearing a personal story from a real individual who has struggled to put food on the table can be eye-opening for those who have never experienced it.

These stories help us spread hunger awareness, and encourage donors large and small to keep giving. In addition, your story can help erase the stereotypes that people associate with food pantries and food stamps. Please help us show the world that the folks in the pantry line are real, hard-working people who are doing their best to provide for their families.

It’s easy to share a thought, comment or personal story – your story is a powerful tool in fighting hunger and its root causes.

If you’re not sure what to write about, you could tell us a story about your experience with any of the following issues:

  • Accessing emergency food
  • Losing your job in this tough economy
  • Having trouble making ends meet
  • Working for wages that don’t support your family
  • Difficulty with medical bills
  • Difficulty affording rent
  • Being homeless
  • Being hurt by predatory banking, lending or business practices
  • How you’ve benefited from community food systems like farm-to-school and community garden programs
  • Difficulty accessing food or services where you live
  • Living with a disability and waiting for SSI or SSDI benefits
  • Challenges you’ve encountered as an Oregon or Clark County farmer
  • A time when cash assistance helped you get back on your feet
  • How you’ve benefited from SNAP (food stamps), child nutrition programs (WIC, school breakfast and lunch, summer food, etc.) or WIC/senior farmers market coupons
  • A memorable experience you had as an St. Louis Area Foodbank advocate or volunteer
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We do not have to use your full name if we share the story, but we do need to verify the stories. For this purpose, please include in your email or message the following information: full name, city of residence, email or phone number, and name of pantry you used if applicable.



By Bethany Prange
Communications coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank

Foodbank Staff Boosts Local School Breakfast Participation

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Children who eat a healthy breakfast have not only improved overall health and well-being, but a better chance at a positive academic future.

New studies show that children who go without a good morning meal suffer from more health conditions and have poor attendance and graduation rates.

That’s why it is vital that all our local schools operate a successful school breakfast program. After all, for many children, the breakfast and lunch they eat at school are the only guaranteed meals they’ll get each day.

Nutrition advocates and hunger relief organizations around the country are encouraging schools to incorporate breakfast into the school day and provide meals-on-the-go that make it as easy as possible for kids to eat.

One such organization is No Kid Hungry. In Illinois, they are playing a key role in feeding children throughout the state.

This statewide organization provides school districts with grant funding to buy equipment that will help them implement new and alternative breakfast programs. These improvements allow more kids to eat breakfast.

No Kid Hungry – Illinois hired school breakfast coordinators that work with agencies throughout the state. The coordinators help the schools apply and receive the available grant funding and work with school staff to implement a new breakfast program.

I am the school breakfast coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank, and I work with the school districts in our 12 counties in Illinois.

Since I began my work, two school districts in our area have received grant funding and implemented new breakfast models. One recipient, the Brooklyn School District, is now at nearly 100 percent participation in school breakfast at their K-12 school.

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The other district, Granite City, received the grant funding for three of its schools and has seen participation more than double from less than 15 percent to approximately 40-45 percent of students participating in school breakfast. That number continues to grow.

Implementation of grants for three more school districts in the area – Roxana, Bethalto and East Alton- Wood River – will launch in late Spring and early Fall 2014. Similar increases in participation are expected in all three districts.

To help promote school breakfast participation and show the benefits associated with it, two school breakfast summits were recently held in the area. These summits brought together school leaders, community stakeholders, and experts on the topic of school nutrition to discuss what can be done to improve participation and create a more successful and healthy generation of students.

It is our goal to see student participation in school breakfast reach 70 percent in our 12 Illinois counties, the whole state of Illinois and eventually the entire United States.

To learn more about how you can get involved in the school breakfast movement in the state of Illinois, please contact school breakfast coordinator Kelly Hall at 314-292-5767 or khall@stlfoodbank.org.

By Kelly Hall, RD, LD

Registered Dietitian and IL School Breakfast Coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank. 

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

In the last week, the bi-state region has experienced significant snowfall and sub-zero temperatures.

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Many roads were in bad shape, schools were cancelled and many businesses were forced to temporary close.

Hopefully your biggest frustration was kids with cabin fever that wanted to watch reruns of “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” on Disney Junior nonstop.

However, after working at the Foodbank for nearly five years, I know the reality for many area families is much more troubling.

According to the Hunger In America 2010, 58 percent of clients served by the St. Louis Area Foodbank reported having to choose between paying for food and paying for utilities or heating fuel. Think about that for a second. Think about how much you hated the thought of going outside for anything. Now try to imagine if your home/apartment felt the same way. No one should have to choose between paying for food and paying to keep the heat on.

As my friend Meredith once said, hunger is like a giant onion with many layers.  Two blogs that I read that I read this week really drove that point home.

One blog was on the No Kid Hungry site and talked about how for most kids snow days are something to get excited about. Snow days are perfect for sledding, building snowmen and as an added bonus, it means no homework.  However, as the blog points out, snow days are dreaded for kids that count on school breakfasts and lunches.  For some, that may be their only meal(s) for the day.  Check out the full blog here – https://www.nokidhungry.org/blog/school-meals/2013/12/snow-days.

The other blog was on Feeding America’s website and brought up that snow days can be a bad thing for adults as well. What if your work is cancelled and you have a hourly wage? What if your car won’t start and there is no way to get to your job?  You might be glad that you can finally binge watch Breaking Bad on Netflix instead of working on that report that your boss has been asking for since before Christmas, but if you actually need to be at your job to help feed your family, snow days can be your worst nightmare. Check out the full blog here – http://blog.feedingamerica.org/2014/01/the-bitter-cold.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t head to Art Hill with your kids or clear out some shows from your DVR. Just remember, the next time your boss says, “don’t bother trying to get out in this stuff” or your child’s school scrolls across the bottom of the local news, there are people in your own backyard that wish that they weren’t stuck inside.

By Ryan Farmer

Communications Manager of the St. Louis Area Foodbank

Cheap Ideas for Entertaining the Kids

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Earlier this summer, I surprised my six-year-old with a cool idea I discovered on the St. Louis Area Foodbank’s Pinterest page.

When he woke up on a particularly hot morning, I told him that somehow, overnight, Darth Vader had snuck into our house and used a freeze ray on Hans Solo and all the other Star Wars good guys.

Our son, who is a huge Star Wars fan, was super excited – and a little mad at Darth Vader – when I showed him that all his Jedi knights were frozen in blocks of ice in our freezer.

He spent several hours that afternoon playing barefoot in the backyard. He had to “rescue” his good guys by shooting the ice blocks with water. It was a fun and cool activity for a hot summer day.

If your kids are bored on these hot summer days, give this a try! Here at the Foodbank, we know how hard it is to keep the kiddos entertained when you’re on a tight budget. But all kids deserve a fun summer!

So try out one of the many free and cheap ideas on our For the Kids page on Pinterest!

http://pinterest.com/stlareafoodbank/for-the-kids/

Back To School Savings

Corporate Photo, little girl working at and arts and crafts table.

Photo courtesy of Feeding America

Ah, August. That last bittersweet month of summer.

As a kid, I remember feeling both a sense of excitement and dread as the summer drew to a close. I was torn.

There would be no more weekday pool parties and playing tag after dark with the neighbor kids.  Homework and early bedtimes were definitely a bummer.

But the start of the new school year also meant I’d get to see my school friends every day. Plus, before the first day, I’d get to go shopping with my mom for school supplies.

I loved picking out new folders, a backpack and brand new pencils and pens. Since I’d inevitably grown since the last day of school, I also got to pick out cool new clothes and shoes.

Looking back, I realize now just how lucky I was that my parents could afford to buy us the things we needed to start the school year off right.

Many of the clients served by the St. Louis Area Foodbank don’t have that luxury. When you’re struggling just to pay the bills and can barely afford food, it’s overwhelming to think about all the things your child will need for school.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to save on those school supplies and new clothes. Many stores run major sales prior to the start of the school year.

But if retail shopping is still out of budget, here are a few other suggestions for saving money on back to school items:

1. Consider secondhand items. Visit Craigslist, Ebay, local thrift stores and even yard sales to find good deals on gently-used items. With a little patience, you can find everything from clothing and backpacks and to computer desks and notebooks.

2. Buy in bulk. If you have multiple children, or just need a bunch of a particular item, you can save by buying large quantities both at online retailers and at stores like Costco and Sam’s Club. These places can save you money on everything from lunchbox snacks to pencils.

3. Swap with other parents. Organize a group of parents from your community and host a school-supply and clothing swap. Your child may be tired of the Spiderman backpack, but it’s brand new to your neighbor’s son!

4. Take advantage of discounts. Many stores and online retailers will offer special student discounts on big-ticket items like laptops or dorm furniture. If you’re a veteran or a member of your local Farm Bureau or AARP, remember to ask each store if they offer those discounts. Sometimes it can pay big just to ask!

5. Repurpose and reuse! Remember those half-used notebooks in the garage left over from your high school math class? Rip out the used pages and use a new picture to cover up that 90s grunge band on the front. Leave no drawer unturned – you may find enough miscellaneous crayons to fill a whole box! (And hey, remember the gazillion pens and pencils you got from local businesses advertising at your neighborhood picnic? Fish those out!)

6. Go DIY. Now, sewing your child’s clothing may not be economical or good for your sanity, but there are lots of school items you can make yourself out of household items. How about turning that old makeup bag into a pencil pouch?

7. Go for the plain Jane. Save by buying the plain version of everything from notebooks to backpacks – they’ll be cheaper than the ones with the licensed cartoon characters. Fancy them up yourself with stickers, keychains and photos you print at home!

8. Use office supply store rewards and rebates. If you shop regularly for your work supplies at store like OfficeMax or Staples, you may have accumulated some major rewards points. Now is the time to cash those in for supplies for the kiddos! Plus, many stores offer rebates and gift certificates for back-to-school items – just sign up for the email alerts!

9. Wait it out. If your child can make it through the first month or two of school with last year’s backpack, you can score a major deal on a new one just by waiting for school supplies to go on clearance.

Sources:

http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2012/07/31/6-ways-to-save-on-back-to-school-supplies-and-clothes
http://frugalliving.about.com/od/bargainshopping/tp/Save_Money_on_School_Supplies.htm

Bethany Prange is the communications 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

Summertime and the Living’s Not So Easy

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A child enjoys a bowl of cereal and some fruit for breakfast / Photo courtesy of Feeding America

 As a kid growing up in Boonville, Mo., summertime meant little league baseball games, trips to the Lake of the Ozarks with my grandparents and running through the sprinkler in my front lawn.  I have a lot of fond memories of the summer months.  Summer just always felt so free to me.  It stayed light outside longer, there was no homework to worry about and I certainly didn’t have to think about where my next meal was coming from.

Unfortunately, for many kids in the United States the summer months are not as fun.  When schools let out for the summer, millions of kids from across the country are forced to look for new sources of food.

According to the most recent data from FRAC, more than 9.4 million kids participate in the free or reduced National School Breakfast Program and more than 20 million kids participate in the free or reduced National School Lunch Program.

That’s a lot of meals to make up and it’s no easy task, especially when you factor in that many of these kids’ parents are either unemployed, underemployed or working multiple part time jobs.  Even if their parents are bringing home a paycheck that doesn’t always equate to meals on the table.

After the monthly bills are paid, there’s often very little to pay for food.  Food banks help feed these families in need.

Children make up the largest segment of the population receiving food assistance from the St. Louis Area Foodbank and within our 26-county service territory, there are more than 148,000 kids that are food insecure.

The short-term impact of hunger on kids is tough, but the long term implications can be devastating.

Studies show that proper nutrition improves a child’s behavior, school performance and overall cognitive development.

That’s what makes food banks so important.  We help fill in the meal gap over the summer months.  We’re there for those kids in need, but we need your help.  Whether it’s sorting and re-packaging food to go out to our partner agencies, making a monetary donation to help us bring more food into the area or hosting a food drive to help feed these hungry kids, you can make a difference.

As a kid, I was lucky.  I had two amazing parents and there was always food on the table.  Summer was fun because I didn’t have a care in the world.

I am currently blessed to work at the St. Louis Area Foodbank and along with all the other terrific employees here, we’re working hard every day to help feed those 148,000 food insecure children who aren’t as lucky.

It may be summertime for them, but the living certainly isn’t easy.

For more data on childhood food insecurity, please check out the interactive map on Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap page - http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-studies/map-the-meal-gap.aspx .

Ryan Farmer

 

 

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

Bikers Bring Backpacks of Love

Two area bikers show up for the Bikers for Backpacks event at the St. Louis Area Foodbank / Photo by Bethany Prange

The first Bikers for Backpacks Ride for St. Louis Area Foodbank was a huge success thanks to the wonderful people who showed up to ride, donate or volunteer their time.
Although Friday was cold and rainy, Mother Nature smiled on us on Saturday, shining down with sunny skies and only a slight chill in the air.  When we set up our registration table in the Foodbank’s back parking lot, we weren’t quite sure how many motorcycles we’d see that day.

But from 9 to 10 a.m., a steady stream of riders followed the curve of Corporate Woods Drive, steering their motorcycles onto the lot.  Before long, the Foodbank parking lot looked like a bike show, with dozens of motorcycles on display.

Before we left our parking lot at 10:30 a.m., we counted 41 motorcycles of various designs, styles and colors. The best part was, the riders seemed to have really enjoyed finding a backpack that either matched – or contradicted – their bikes.

One biker dressed in leathers wore a menacing gray and black skull bandana on his face. He paired it with a bright pink Hello Kitty backpack stuffed with kid-friendly food donations.

Then there were leather-clad cyclists carrying red and blue Spiderman backpacks, boxes of Kool-Aid and even pink and purple backpacks filled with donations.

The highlight was a mystery rider who showed up in full motorcycle gear, but rode a bicycle! He pedaled up to the starting point with a backpack filled with food and claimed he would be getting a head start. Somehow he managed to make every stop on his bicycle.  Hmmm?

 

After leaving the Foodbank, the riders made stops at several establishments before ending later in the afternoon at the Hawg Pit restaurant in Grafton.

Each rider made a monetary donation or brought a backpack filled with kid-friendly food items for the St. Louis Area Foodbank. The Foodbank provides meals to 261,000 people a year in 26 counties in Missouri and Illinois. Of those individuals, 39% are children under the age of 18.

In all, the first Bikers for Backpacks Ride raised $1,000 in cash donations and brought in 49 backpacks filled with 839 pounds of easy-access, nutritional, kid-friendly food.

Helmets off to everyone who made donations, including Mary Beth Bergfeld and her group from UPS who donated 136 pounds and $25 to the ride!

All the food donations will be packed by volunteers and distributed over the next few weeks. In all, the food and funds donated during the ride equal about 4605 meals for hungry kids!

Keep your eyes and ears open for the 2013 ride and pass the word on to your friends.

Thank you so much for your kindness and generosity. And please WATCH FOR MOTORCYCLES ON THE ROADS!

Ride safely!

    Trish Jenner is a volunteer coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank

 

Rachel’s Challenge – Learning To Work Together

Seventh graders from Holman Middle School prepare CSFP boxes / Photo by Bethany Prange

Shouts of pre-teen voices and the squeals of rubber-soled sneakers on concrete blasted through the silence. Empty cardboard boxes and plastic wrap flew around the room like a mini tornado.

Brightly-colored Aeropostle t-shirts and Abercrombie hoodies blur together in a frantic rainbow.

Then, in a flurry of coins and quick fingers, the vending machine was cleaned out of candy and soda.

Gremlins? Nope.

It’s just the raw energy and enthusiasm of more than 200 seventh graders.

Over the course of two weeks in late January, the entire seventh grade class from Holman Middle School in the Pattonville School District converged on the Volunteer Center at St. Louis Area Foodbank.

For three hours straight on several days, the students relied on the full force of their youthful enthusiasm to pack box after box of  pasta, rice, beans and beef stew for families in need. And as they packed, they learned a few lessons about compassion and working together to help others.

“The seventh graders are here today as part of Rachel’s Challenge,” says Rita Rutledge, a social studies teacher and department chairperson at Holman. “Our school has adopted the Rachel’s Challenge philosophy and we chose this week because of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.”

Rachel’s Challenge was started by the family of Rachel Scott, the first person killed at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Her acts of kindness and compassion coupled with the contents of her six diaries have become the foundation “for one of the most life-changing school programs in America,” according to the Rachel’s Challenge website.

“They had found a bunch of her writings and she had talked about being kind to others and never bullying people,” Rutledge says. “They challenge the students to be nice to others and to never bully others.”

The mission of Rachel’s Challenge is to: “create a permanent positive culture change in their school, business and community by starting a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.”

http://www.rachelschallenge.org/LearnMore/OurMission.php

“I think volunteering here gives the kids a sense of doing things for others without monetary reward,” Rutledge says. “I think the kids realize that being kind is something we should do in our daily life. Hopefully we are fostering a lifelong belief of working for your community.”

Holman Middle School is participating in Rachel’s Challenge throughout the year, and volunteering at the Foodbank is just part of their commitment. They chose to do their community service day at the Foodbank because a small group of students had previously volunteered here on the 9/11 day of service.

Rutledge said the students had such a positive experience at the Foodbank, she wanted to bring the entire class back.

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