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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.

Little Helping Hands

Photo Reenactment / Photo by Bethany Prange

“Knock, knock.”

Trish, the St. Louis Area Foodbank volunteer coordinator, laughed as she tapped her knuckles on the door of my office.

“I have someone here who wants to make a donation,” she said with a smile.

I turned around in my chair and began to get up, but quickly realized I was already eye-to-eye with the donor — a sweet little girl of about 7. We’ll call her Charity.

Charity shyly handed me a heavy white envelope. Inside, nickels and dimes were Scotch-taped to loose-leaf paper.

A few weeks ago, when Charity learned she would be volunteering at the Foodbank, she started saving her hard-earned allowance.

By donating a portion of her allowance, Charity learned that caring and sacrifice go hand in hand — no matter what size the hands are.

All hard-working donors sacrifice a little to help their neighbors a lot, and they also trust in the Foodbank to make their sacrifice count.

Charity’s $1.25 enables the Foodbank to provide 5 meals to people in need. ($1=4 meals)

I didn’t perform cross multiplication for Charity to demonstrate the impact of her donation, but that is certainly something I do weekly to show how $1 can go a long way toward making a substantial difference.

Instead, I told Charity she had done something very nice, and then she gave me a hug.

    Patrick Delhougne is a development associate at the St. Louis Area Foodbank.