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Struggling Families Pay It Forward

Sandra is battling breast cancer. But she is also battling hunger.

Last week, she skipped a chemotherapy treatment just so she could go to the Chester Area Christian Food Pantry to pick up the food she and her husband so desperately need.

And yet, Sandra doesn’t expect to take without giving back.

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Sandra and her husband have a lush garden, so every time she comes to pick up food from the pantry, she brings in bags full of tomatoes and other vegetables.

She is just one of the many people in this small southern Illinois community who share what little they have with others in need.

Food pantry staff tell countless stories of families in need who bring in homegrown fruits and vegetables or handmade items, hoping to share their own bounties with other families in need.

Yesterday, at a food fair in Chester, Ill., Foodbank staff watched nearly 180 of these families in need wait patiently in line for hours for their share of food.

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Some families lined up as early at 5 a.m., knowing the Foodbank truck wouldn’t arrive with food until after 10 a.m. They waited, in their cars, without complaint for nearly six hours.

This is a testament to how much these families truly need the food.

By 1 p.m., the nearly 20,000 pounds of food we delivered to Chester was gone, divided up amongst the families.

Every family I spoke with expressed gratitude for the food, and said without it, they would not have enough to eat.

They were also quick to tell me that when they get food from the pantry, if there is any extra or anything they can’t use, they share it with their neighbors in need.

Perhaps it is the common ground of hard times that motivates families in need to help one another. Or perhaps, they help each other when they can, simply because they want to pay it forward.

See some moving pictures from the Chester food fair here.

By Bethany Prange

Social Media Specialist

It’s My Turn to Give Back

When I was a kid, my family needed help and organizations like the Foodbank were there for us. Now it’s my turn to give back.

This past weekend, I participated in my second food fair with the St. Louis Area Foodbank.

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This time, I donated my time on behalf of the Friends of the Foodbank, a new group of professionals committed to volunteering and representing the Foodbank at community events.

The Foodbank partnered with one of their partner agencies, a church in Washington, Mo., to provide almost 20,000 pounds of food to more than 130 families in need. Read more

Summertime Equals Fresh Produce, Even for Families in Need

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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.

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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 »

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

Small Town Families Face Big Challenges

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Volunteers load a vehicle with groceries at a recent Food Fair in Louisiana, Mo. / Photo by Bethany Prange

 When you think of small towns, it’s easy to picture the Americana image portrayed in good country songs.

Just take a drive through a rural farming town, and you’ll likely see the quaint downtown square, the little white church, and the barber shop where everybody knows your name.

What you won’t see – at least as a casual passerby – is the struggle that many small town families face. Just like their urban counterparts, rural families face issues like hunger and poverty.

While the “country image” may add a veil of old-world charm to the strife faced by rural families, it doesn’t make living in poverty any easier for the men, women and children who deal with it every day.

In Louisiana, Mo., a rural town with a population of almost 3,800 people, the reality of hunger and poverty is evident.

Like many small towns, Louisiana is far from an urban metropolis. While this is good for those wanting to live the country life, it can make getting every day necessities a challenge. Rural families rely on the assets of their own communities to get by.

So when the only grocery store in Louisiana closed recently, it left many families wondering how they’d be able to buy food. The nearest store is now 20 miles away, and for many, the extra gas needed to get there is not in the budget.

If a store closes in an urban community rich with dozens of places to buy groceries, it doesn’t necessarily make a huge impact. But in a small town where many families don’t even have access to a reliable car, the closing of the only store can mean the difference between having food and going hungry.

Another issue presented by rural living is a lack of social service agencies. In St. Louis, families in need literally have hundreds of food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and programs to help them get through tough times.

In a rural community though, there may be only one food pantry in the entire county.

While we can’t solve the problems faced by rural families, the St. Louis Area Foodbank wants to help as much as possible. When we learned of the grocery store closing in Louisiana, we knew we had to provide families in need with some extra help.

This Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, we delivered more than 32,000 pounds of food to Louisiana, Mo. With the help of our partner agency there, Heart to Heart Community Outreach, we gave that food to almost 150 families in need.

Despite the chill in the air, families in need lined up hours ahead of time, waiting for their turn. Students from Louisiana High School helped load cars with potatoes, meat, bread and baby food.

In just three hours, all that food went to rural families who desperately need it.

Foodbank staff are glad we could provide some relief to this small town, even if our efforts can’t solve all the problems of rural life.

We hope another grocery store will consider opening in Louisiana soon.

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

 

Feed the Hungry and Provide HOPE!

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              Volunteers help bag food at a recent mobile distribution in Warren County / Photo by Bethany Prange

As we celebrate another holiday season, many of us are consumed with thoughts of family gatherings and the scrumptious feast that lies ahead of us.

Visions of turkeys, hams, roasts, side dishes, casseroles, dinner rolls and pies dance through our heads and leave us fully anticipating days when we can stuff our bellies and drift off into a turkey-induced slumber.

But for some members of our community, the only vision that can be seen this holiday season, and every other day of the year, is that of an empty table, scarce food and very little reason for celebration.

Those who suffer from mental illness, have fallen on hard times or live in poverty are struggling to survive day-to-day. These individuals often find the holidays an added source of stress and anxiety.

Not only does daily life create challenges that seem insurmountable but getting through each day seems to take every ounce of energy they can muster.

As parents, they are faced with the challenge of providing not just enough food to feed their children, but finding access to nourishing food that will help their children live fuller, healthier lives.

Unfortunately, many of the families that participate in Crider Health Center’s programs and services struggle to meet life’s most basic necessities.  They struggle to put enough food on their tables to sustain their family.

This holiday season, Crider Health Center joined forces with the St. Louis Area Foodbank to provide nourishing, health-conscious food to 80 families in Warren County. We were honored to provide this service for families who needed an added dose of hope this holiday season.

Luckily, this partnership isn’t one that will fade when the holidays have come and gone – it is a gift that will keep giving and providing for Warren County families for years to come.

Without the generosity of the St. Louis Area Foodbank and their donors, many Crider families would not have the ability to put a healthy meal on their tables, much less an entire holiday feast.

But through this newly formed partnership, our Warren County families have a reason to celebrate, a reason to smile, and one more reason to have HOPE for the future.

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Pam Imboden is the Marketing and Development Manager at Crider Health Center

Bringing The Market To The People

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Volunteers at Matthew 25 Ecumenical Food Pantry bag up fresh cabbage during a recent St. Louis Area Foodbank Mobile Market / Photo by Bethany Prange

It’s a sunny Monday in Carlyle, Ill., and the cars have been lining up since 6 a.m.

Five hours later, the line of cars stretches halfway through this small town in Clinton County as families patiently wait for the food they need.

Today is mobile market day at Matthew 25 Ecumenical Food Pantry, a day when families struggling with hunger can receive fresh produce, dairy and bakery via a special delivery from the St. Louis Area Foodbank.

On the third Monday of every month, a Foodbank truck arrives at the pantry, filled with fresh food that must immediately go out to those who need it.

Soliciting highly-nutritious fresh food means the Foodbank constantly faces the possibility of expiration. For instance, if we bring in a truckload of fresh tomatoes that are already very ripe, we must distribute those tomatoes to families in need immediately to make sure they get eaten.

That’s where mobile markets come in. Items that are close to expiration – or even just fresh items we have an abundance of – are delivered in bulk to one of our 500 partner agencies. Agency volunteers then immediately give the food out to families in need.

On Monday, Aug. 20, 2012, Matthew 25 Ecumenical Food Pantry and the people of Carlyle were ready and willing to take their 14,910 pounds of fresh produce.

More than 20 volunteers spent several hours in the church parking lot, sorting and re-bagging the veggies before handing it out to the families waiting in the line of cars.

The Foodbank truck brought cabbage, carrots, red bell peppers, veggie dip, cucumbers, zucchini, red potatoes, white potatoes and sweet potatoes.  A regular veggie smorgasbord!

“It’s usually always vegetables, fruit, bakery and dairy,” says David Huene, director of Matthew 25 Ecumenical Food Pantry. “We don’t get a lot of fresh produce other than the mobile market.”

Pantry volunteers spread word about the mobile market by telling the 220 families who visit the pantry’s normal distribution day on the first Wednesday of the month.

The need is certainly evident. On Aug. 20, Huene counted 250 families in line at the mobile market.

“If it wasn’t for the food pantry, we wouldn’t have made it,” says one client named Sherry. “My husband got hurt and couldn’t work. They’ve been so good to us.”

Sherry spent her Monday volunteering at the mobile market, anxious to help others get the food they need. As she handed out bags of carrots to families waiting in line, Sherry offered a kind word to each driver who passed.

“I get food for other families with kids,” Sherry says. “They’re so grateful to have anything to feed their kids.”

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

 

Seeing the Face of Hunger Firsthand

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Ashlyn Brewer helps unload corn from a St. Louis Area Foodbank truck during a recent Food Fair in Warrenton, Mo. / Photo by Bethany Prange

Since last November, I’ve been volunteering with the Foodbank as part of the Social Media Avengers group. Until today, that meant providing blog training, sharing content from my networks, and brainstorming social media strategy over drinks at the Luna Lounge. That’s not a tough job description for a volunteer, especially for such a good cause.

But today was the first time I ever really saw the face of hunger in St. Louis. I attended a food fair put on by the Foodbank, and was actually able to put food into the hands (and cars) of people who really need it. Bethany told our group that these events really put things into perspective, but I couldn’t have predicted the impact it would have on me.

The things that made the biggest impression on me were:

1. The sheer amount of people willing to wait hours in line for food. Our Social Media Avengers caravan arrived more than an hour before we were scheduled to hand out food.  But we weren’t the first ones there. Cars were already starting to line up for food. Briefly, I worried that the heat might keep people away. But by the time we unloaded all the food pallets from the refrigerated trucks, I could no longer see the end of the line of cars.  In total, we provided more than 150 families with food in just a two-hour period.

2.  The commitment of Foodbank staff and volunteers. As you might have noticed, we’re in the middle of a hellish heat wave. Still, more than 30 volunteers came to the event in Warrenston to hand out food. We all came together with one goal – fill all the cars with food as efficiently as possible. People waited hours for that food, and no one wanted to make them wait a moment more than necessary. Because of the intense heat, volunteers kept an eye on each other, making sure everyone was drinking plenty of water and getting out of the sun when possible.

3.  The diversity of food each family received. When I think of the Foodbank and food drives, I often think simple, non-perishable items like canned beans and macaroni and cheese. But fighting hunger in St. Louis takes a lot of different kinds of food. We handed out bread, bushels of corn, crates of bananas, pizzas, crackers, and household items like toilet paper. I got the best job – handing out candy. Certainly, the healthy food the other stations had is more important to a hungry individual’s well-being. But everyone deserves to enjoy dessert after a balanced meal, and I was psyched to see the delight on kids’ faces when I handed them a bag of sweets.

4. The kids. From now on, when I think about hunger in St. Louis, I’m going to think about the kids in those cars. I can’t imagine what it’s like for a child to wait in a car, on a hot day, for something most of us get in one quick trip to the grocery store.  And while you can hardly go to the grocery store without at least one run-in with an unruly child, I didn’t see a single child cry or whine the entire day.

5.  Hunger in St. Louis is real.  Intellectually, I’ve known about the hunger problem in our region since I moved here in 2010. The Foodbank has done an excellent job helping the community understand the problem we face. But there’s something about seeing it face-to-face that changes everything. It was immediately clear to me that no one would wait that long, sitting in a parking lot on a hot day, if they didn’t really need the food.

The Foodbank is working hard to solve the problem of hunger in St. Louis, but we all must be willing to be part of the solution. The food you donate or box up on a Foodbank volunteer shift all goes to real people, who really need it. The time and money you donate helps solve a critical problem facing our community.

As of today, hunger in St. Louis is real, but the Foodbank, and all of us, can work toward making it just a memory.

Ashlyn Brewer

 

Ashlyn Brewer is a marketing associate at Standing Partnership and a St. Louis Area Foodbank Social Media Avenger

 

 

30,000 Pounds of Good Will


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Volunteers at a recent St. Louis Area Foodbank Food Fair load up a car with potatoes / Photo by Bethany Prange

The driver parks the Foodbank truck and then quickly unloads the pallets of food, careful to place the items in the correct order.  Volunteers buzz about, re-bagging 50 pound bags of produce into portions more suitable for a family.  Legislators and their staffers arrive and ask where they are most needed. And then the line of cars starts moving…

This is what it feels like to be at a St. Louis Area Foodbank Food Fair.  Food Fairs are a unique opportunity for Foodbank staffers to directly serve those in need.

Using distribution statistics, the Foodbank’s Agency Relations team identifies outlying counties in our service territory that are in need of additional pounds of food to assist with the increasing amount of people in poverty within those counties. Working in conjunction with partner agencies, the Foodbank allocates 200 vouchers to the agency to be distributed to their neediest families. These vouchers allow the families to access the event, and receive additional items to supplement their food supply.

During the event, clients drive slowly along a row of pallets filled with a mix of shelf-stable product, fresh produce, bread and other nutritious items. The line is manned by volunteers, who load the product into the client’s cars. The line moves continuously for two hours, until all of the vouchers for that day have been collected; all that remains are bare pallets once hidden by overflowing food.

That quickly, up to 30,000 lbs of food has been efficiently dispensed into the hands of those that need it most.

The Agency Relations staff is proud to stand by the St. Louis Area Foodbank’s mission of feeding hungry people by distributing food through our partner agencies.  When we’re able to directly assist in the mission alongside our partners and volunteers at food fairs, it helps remind us why we’re in this fight against hunger.

Sara Lewis

 

 

Sara Lewis is an agency relations coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank