If you’ve been out to our facility recently, you may have noticed a few changes.
It’s not uncommon to see bulldozers, shovels, and cranes hanging out around the front of our building these days. We’re in the middle of some big changes that will help us fight hunger in our community. We’re adding a second-floor addition to house our new Hunger Engagement Center.
The Hunger Engagement Center will provide a versatile space for meetings and classrooms to help us engage with the community. We’ll also have a kitchen prep space for cooking demonstrations and other food-related outreach.
The first floor is also being expanded to include more rooms and storage for our growing company, and wonderful volunteers. We’re very excited about our expansion, and we can’t wait to put it to good use soon. Below are some photos that show the big changes we’re making.
On February 7, 2014, the St. Louis Business Journal released their list of the largest nonprofits in the area. The St. Louis Area Foodbank was proud to crack the top 10 based on fiscal year 2013 operating budget, coming in at number 8 overall.
Independent auditors assign a value of $1.69 per pound on the food that comes in and goes out of our warehouse in Bridgeton, along with our cash operating budget. As our distribution totals increase (nearly 35 million pounds distributed in FY2013), so does our operating budget.
In addition to our ranking on the list, reporter Nicholas Ledden from the Business Journal also went back and took a look at this list from five years ago. He calculated which organizations showed the greatest percentage increase in operating budget over that time (fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2013). The St. Louis Area Foodbank tops that list with a 138.02% increase ($27,907,780 in 2008 to $66,427,014 for 2013).
An abbreviated interview with St. Louis Area Foodbank President and CEO, Frank Finnegan, accompanied the list in the printed version of the paper. The full interview is below:
So your operating budget has seen some significant growth over the last five years. To what do you attribute the increase?
We asked the community to support our capital campaign when we moved into our current facility in Bridgeton in 2006. We stated then that the additional space would allow us to significantly increase food distribution to hungry families in our community. The year before we launched the capital campaign, we distributed 12 million pounds of food and personal care items. Over the last five years we’ve made good on our original promise, going from 20 million pounds in fiscal year 2009 to nearly 35 million pounds in fiscal year 2013. Auditors assign a value to the food and personal care items we distribute, so as the amount of pounds we distribute increases, so does our operating budget. We have also invested heavily in infrastructure updates that have significantly improved the efficiency of our operation. Our distribution models have evolved as well, so much so that now more than 50 percent of the product we distribute is delivered directly to our partner agencies. As a result, we have tripled the number of trucks we have on the road.
Do you have expansion plans for 2014?
Although we’re on pace to increase distribution by six percent this year, our primary focus has shifted to the nutritional value of the product. We plan to improve the nutritional component of our distribution by increasing the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables.
How would you rate the organization’s fiscal 2013? Highlights?
We had the single largest year-over-year distribution increase in our history – 26 percent. However, as proud as we are of that accomplishment, we are just as pleased that we also achieved our goal of establishing an operating reserve that will help sustain the Foodbank’s long-term viability. Volunteers are vital to our operation. In 2013, we saw a record number of volunteers come through our doors to help us repackage the food we distribute. To accommodate that growth, we added an additional parking lot at our facility.
What have you identified as the organization’s single greatest opportunity for continued growth?
Since the food industry donates excess product, donations to the Foodbank follow food industry trends. Manufacturers and producers have made significant progress in eliminating mistakes, so donations are trending more in the area of fresh fruits and vegetables. That’s a happy coincidence for the Foodbank as fresh produce is exactly what is needed to improve the diets of the people we’re serving.
What is the organization’s impact on the community? Has that impact grown over the last five years as well?
We are the primary food source for the majority of our 512 partner agencies, which include food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other nonprofits who feed those in need throughout our 26-county service territory in Missouri and Illinois. Demand for food assistance has grown due to the economic downturn and the evolution of the workforce from good-paying blue-collar jobs to lower-paying and part-time jobs in the service sector. For the first time, working age people now make up the majority of U.S. households that rely on food stamps, primarily as a result of a slow economic recovery, high unemployment and stagnant wages. Unfortunately, as the number of families in need continues to rise, our impact becomes even greater.
Biggest challenge going into 2014?
Our biggest challenge is to improve on the already impressive growth and progress achieved last year. Hunger is an ongoing problem, and it doesn’t discriminate. It affects young and old, all races and religions; it’s prevalent in our cities as well as rural counties. Our biggest challenge is to convince people hunger only exists because we allow it. We don’t lack for food in this country; we lack the political will to simply end it.
Access to the online version of the list and the interview with Frank Finnegan require a subscription to the St. Louis Business Journal.
In the last week, the bi-state region has experienced significant snowfall and sub-zero temperatures.
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
We all know what it means to be afraid, but few of us have ever truly feared for our lives. That is the fear you hear in the voice of the Joplin resident whose unnerving video made its way across the internet last year. As an F5 tornado swept across this Missouri town, one resident captured the terror and surreal chaos as he huddled with his neighbors in a Joplin gas station.
This YouTube video will serve as a lasting reminder of the devastating natural disaster that hit Joplin one year ago this week. It will join the countless pictures, news stories and videos that still circulate the internet a year later.
Make no mistake, the tornado that ravaged Joplin was destructive. But equally as powerful was the collective effort to rebuild a town that was nearly wiped entirely off the map.
Upon returning from Joplin, St. Louis Area Foodbank Distribution Coordinator Mitch Wirfs described the scene, “It was sheer destruction. For as far as you could see, there was literally nothing there. It was a fairly built-up community that was just gone.”
In the days after the tornado hit, St. Louisans did what most Americans do when faced with adversity – they rallied together and stepped up to help in any way they could.
From celebrities to the local school class, everyone looked for a way to help.
For three hours, the Blues players signed autographs and posed for photos to thank fans for their outpouring of support. In less than 30 minutes, Blues fans had filled one Foodbank truck with donations!
The items collected were later driven to the closest Feeding America food bank to Joplin – Ozarks Food Harvest in Springfield, Mo. Foodbank staff accompanied the product and helped with the recovery effort.
Wirfs said, “It was amazing the stuff that just kept showing up. I’ll always remember this U-haul that pulled up from Indiana. It was packed with clothing, toys and pet items.”
People from across the country traveled to Springfield with a common agenda – rebuilding Joplin and getting the people back on their feet, Wirfs said.
Recently, President Barack Obama spoke to the 2012 graduating class at Joplin High School, which was also destroyed by the tornado.
“We need each other. We’re important to each other. We’re stronger together than we are on our own,” President Obama told the students.
Those words definitely ring true. Tornados and other natural disasters create fear, but in the aftermath, they give us faith in humanity and inspire hope for the future.
Ryan Farmer is the communications manager at the St. Louis Area Foodbank