A young boy shouted these words as he wrapped his arms around Pastor Nathan Cherry of Victory Dream Center in Carbondale, Ill.
He is just one of many children who attended the Victory Dream Center’s food distribution on a recent Saturday evening. To this little guy, Nathan and Victory are a part of his family.
After all, for the little boy’s family – and others like them – Victory is a comforting place where they can get the food they need.
It is clear that Nathan and his agency are succeeding in their mission to leave a positive impression in the community.
Nathan recently talked about his experiences with St. Louis Area Foodbank Agency Relations Coordinator Kate Hartman.
1. Please give me your name and the name of the agency where you volunteer.
Nathan Cherry; Victory Dream Center in Carbondale, Ill.
2. When did you first become involved with this agency?
I started at the Dream Center in 2003 and we began partnering with the St. Louis Area Foodbank in July 2010.
3. What prompted you to begin working or volunteering with this agency?
“My parents started the church. I was immediately involved from the start and I knew I wanted to be in the ministry,” Nathan says. “After I graduated from college I came on full time and started managing most everything here.”
“In 2009, we started talking about expanding our outreach in the community. We really wanted to do something more for the people and thought food was the best option. That was really the bottom line; we wanted to do more.”
4. How many people does your agency serve on an average month?
We serve 1,000 families and 3,500 individuals.
5. How do you feel the St. Louis Area Foodbank affects the services you are able to provide your clients?
“Oh, it’s everything,” Nathan says. “If we didn’t have the St. Louis Area Foodbank we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing. Ninety-nine percent comes from the Foodbank.”
6. 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?
“Definitely. In the last three years we have a lot more people in the community that know about us because of what we do,” Nathan says.
“As for one specific testimony? I can think of a lot. One that comes to mind is a single-parent family – a mother raising six kids. We delivered some food to them, and then they started coming here. Eventually, she started volunteering here, and she’s one of our most faithful volunteers.”
“A lot of people—when they start receiving—want to give. This is a great way for them to give. That’s exciting to see,” Nathan says.
7. In your time as a volunteer/staff member, what are the most significant changes you have seen?
“Clearly, connecting with the St. Louis Area Foodbank has been the biggest change,” Nathan says. “The St. Louis Area Foodbank has put Victory Dream Center on the map. We’re grateful to the staff.”
8. From your vantage point, what one thing would you like to see happen to improve the economic situation in America?
“More of a connection between the upper and lower class — in the essence of charitable contributions,” Nathan says. “What I see, what I teach, and what I live, is whatever you give, you’re going to get.”
Kate Hartman is an agency relations coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank
The St. Louis Foodbank operates a Transitional Housing Program for people moving from a local shelter into their own residence.
We know it’s hard to scrape together the funds to pay a month’s rent, not to mention the utility down payments, security fees, etc.
To help with those one time additional costs, we provide a 30-day supply of food and other household items. Everyone needs a little help at some point, or at least some guidance.
Judy and I created our own transitional housing program with our daughter. After graduating from Missouri State University, Shawn accepted a job as a travel director.
The position has taken Shawn to many exotic places, but it also required that she spend the vast majority of her time out of town. Therefore, there wasn’t much sense in moving her into an apartment.
Loving parents that Judy and I are, we told her she was welcome to live with us but she’d have to pay rent. The Finnegan family transitional housing program had two options.
Shawn’s first option was to pay $250 each month and her loving parents would thank her very much and spend it on meals, movies and entertainment. Her second option was to pay $500 each month and we would return the entire sum whenever she decided to move out.
Shawn paid us rent for three years before an overpowering urge to flee drove her out and now has her paying rent to complete strangers.
Looking back, I’m happy about two things. First, Shawn paid the higher sum. Second, Judy collected the monthly rent payments and dutifully put them in the bank. Eighteen months after moving out of her parents’ home, Shawn bought her own house with the down payment from our transitional housing program.
Judy and I are in an enviable position. We have college educations, we both work and we’re able to live within our means. We have one child who successfully navigated the tumultuous years from 16 to 25. That seems to be the decade when parents everywhere pray their children don’t make one really stupid decision that could forever change their lives for the worse.
We know that circumstances beyond our control happen every day. A serious illness, a car accident, a lost job – so many things could start a spiral down that suddenly gets out of control.
Shelters are full of people who fell into that downward spiral. They certainly never planned on being in a shelter.
I’m thankful the Foodbank’s Transitional Housing Program can be there to help these folks down on their luck; just as I’m thankful Judy and I were able to help Shawn.
Everyone – at one time or another – needs a chance for a new start…a fresh beginning.
St. Louis Area Foodbank President and CEO Frank Finnegan first shared a version of this story in the March 2013 Tablesetter newsletter.
Since I have worked at the St. Louis Area Foodbank for more than 15 years, there are countless moments that have truly made my job matter to me.
I was the hired in 1997 as the Foodbank’s first-ever communications coordinator. Right off the bat I knew I wanted to learn more about our member agencies and the clients they serve.
Visiting agencies and getting to know these individuals helped me solidify the message I was asking the community to hear. It worked – so I continued visiting agencies often. I still make agency visits to this day.
Over the years, I have met dozens of people who have inspired me in my nonprofit work at the Foodbank. But there is one moment in particular that always comes to the forefront in my mind.
I met Gene during a lunch-hour visit to a soup kitchen in St. Charles. Gene was a middle-aged man who stopped by the soup kitchen for a meal when he could get away from the jobsite long enough to eat.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. . .
“Jobsite? If he has a job, then why on earth is he at a soup kitchen?”
Here’s why: Gene worked in the construction business, a fact that was evident from his work clothes and the tape measure on his belt. Despite his job, this man had been in need of help for the two months since his wife left.
They were a family of four, Gene said, and seemingly happy, until “she just left” one day. The note explained that she was sorry, and that she was leaving to pursue another life with someone else.
Gene was floored. He had had no idea his wife was unhappy.
To make matters worse, not only did she leave Gene and her two children, she also took the modest funds the family had saved up in their joint checking account.
Gene, as most of us would, began to struggle trying to maintain family expenses. He said he realized he “needed some help after a few weeks.”
As I talked with Gene that day, he told me that he had yet to accept any offers of help from the agency’s food pantry.
He teared up a bit when he said, “I can still feed my kids. I don’t want anyone else taking care of my kids.”
I disagreed with Gene about his unwillingness to accept additional help, but as a father myself, I understood his point.
His income provided enough to maintain some expenses, but when there wasn’t enough money to go round, food was the first item to get cut.
Gene was struggling to feed his children, so, feeding himself became his lowest priority. Lunch at the soup kitchen was his lone meal of the day.
This lunch discussion with Gene has remained a vivid reminder to me why the Foodbank – and the work we do – is so very important. Until things could right themselves, his family needed someone willing to help.
Photo: Feeding America“Across the nation, families in need rely on soup kitchens for a hot meal”
Gene is just one example of the more than 57,100 people helped each week by the St. Louis Area Foodbank.
As for Gene, he did eventually accept help for his kids through our partner agency’s pantry.
Fortunately, Gene ultimately got to a point where he no longer needed lunch from the soup kitchen. I was happy to know that Gene was able to get back on his feet.
But, I’m equally as happy knowing that should the need arise again, the soup kitchen remains open for lunch.
Matt Dace is the senior vice president at the St. Louis Area Foodbank.
Yesterday, more than 200 directors and staff from many of the St. Louis Area Foodbank’s 514 partner agencies participated in our annual conference.
Most of the Foodbank’s partner agencies are operated solely by dedicated volunteers, so this annual event gives these individuals the chance to learn about new ideas and best practices for running a nonprofit feeding program.
Representatives from our partner soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters and senior feeding programs attended educational sessions on:
Obama Care, the Affordable Care Act – How will it affect low-income families?
Social media – How can nonprofits make the most of social networking platforms?
Retail Pickup Program – Guidelines for accepting food donated by retailers.
Raising Food and Funds – Information on best practices in food and fundraising.
Former Missouri Senator Joan Bray addressed the group just before lunch, presenting a keynote speech on the state of government in Missouri, and anticipated changes in nonprofit laws.
Jim Braun, partner with EMD Consulting Group, gave a compelling talk about the importance of investing in succession planning to ensure that nonprofits continue to thrive even during changes in management.
Chef David Frattini, chef instructor at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in St. Louis, performed a cooking demonstration of a meal that was both healthy and affordable. Using many foods commonly donated to the Foodbank, Frattini prepared a minestrone soup.
To learn more the sessions offered to agencies yesterday, please view the following presentations.
Daisy and Duke, two white Bichons, scurry around the apartment, jumping on chairs and chasing toys.
Their owner, Charles “Charlie” Pringle, warns them to settle down, but even his sternest voice doesn’t seem to calm the pups – an excitable brother and sister he adopted from a shelter. Charlie, 60, can’t help but smile.
The trio lives in a handsome apartment in a senior complex in De Soto, Mo. The tall ceilings, modern appliances and antique décor suggest a luxurious lifestyle.
But in reality, most of Charlie’s most prized possessions were acquired earlier in his life, back when things were easier.
Charlie was born in Morgantown, W.V. His father worked in the coal mines there, but moved the family to Warren, Ohio, when Charlie was just two years old.
The kidney problems meant that Charlie wasn’t as big or as strong as the other boys his age. Growing up, he was frequently bullied by the other children.
At age 11, Charlie’s mother took him to a different doctor who announced that the boy would only live two more years. Seeking help, his parents sent him to the Cleveland Clinic. There, they determined that Charlie suffered from a hereditary kidney disease called Alport Syndrome.
Despite his illness, Charlie managed to graduate from high school and enroll at Kent State University, where he studied fine art.
Charlie moved to St. Louis, intending to finish his degree at St. Louis University. He first took a job as an assistant warehouse manager at Target, and later worked at Creve Coeur Camera.
In the early 1980s, Charlie was working at a small electronics and computer accessories company, when he got sick once more. He was forced to begin dialysis at Barnes Hospital.
“I would work all day and go on dialysis,” Charlie says. “I wouldn’t get out until 1 a.m. after dialysis.”
This routine went on for a year and a half before a kidney became available in 1989. He underwent the kidney transplant, receiving the kidney from a donor who also provided organs to four other patients.
Despite the odds, Charlie has been living with his kidney for 23 years. “Every day I get up and I thank God for being alive,” Charlie says.
Just a month after the transplant, Charlie was back at work. Mounting medical bills meant an ongoing fight with his insurance company.
Ultimately, he was fired because the small company could not afford to insure him.
Charlie sent out 285 resumes for 200 different jobs, but each time he came in for an interview, he had to fill out his health history – a disclosure that often meant he was passed over.
“I was out of work for almost a year,” Charlie says. “I had to use charge cards to survive.”
Even when he got a new job as a sales consultant at an appliance parts center, the looming debt was overwhelming.
During his time at the parts center, Charlie worked with some of the company’s biggest clients. For 14 years, he devoted his life to the company until one day, he was abruptly let go because of his pre-existing health condition.
The sudden job loss sent Charlie into a tailspin of despair. Physical and emotional problems were overwhelming.
In 2001, his doctor demanded that Charlie stop trying to find a job. He filed for disability, but still hoped to find work.
His 401K and savings were depleted, and it took years for his disability payments to come through.
Charlie eventually moved to a place in the country in De Soto. There, while he struggled to pay medical bills with little income, he was able to rely on the De Soto Food Pantry for food assistance. He insisted on volunteering at the pantry to earn his keep.
“I don’t want to just come in and get it,” Charlie says. “I take care of the USDA when it comes in.”
When the bills became too much and he began to fall due to neuropathy in his legs, Charlie moved to the senior apartments in De Soto.
“I’m able to afford the rent and the utilities,” Charlie says.
He continues to spend $1,300 a month on medications for his kidney disease, and thousands more on trips to the doctors in St. Louis, lab work and tests. Thankfully, he does receive some help from the Missouri Kidney Foundation.
“With the government it is really scary to not know of what changes might occur,” Charlie says. “With the help and kindness of the Disability Resource Association (DRA) they try to make your life not so bad.”
Charlie has cut everything extra from his life – no magazines, no eating out, no using gas to visit friends. He receives $16 in food stamps a month, and for most of his other food, relies on the De Soto Food Pantry.
He gets most of his clothes from thrift stores and often shares food with his neighbors at the senior apartments to make it stretch.
Like most of the people who get food at the pantry, Charlie is immensely grateful.
“It’s made me realize that there are a lot of people out there who are in need,” Charlie says.
Bethany Prange is the communications coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank.
With the start of another new year, we all look for new ways to transform ourselves and our lives. Some make resolutions to lose weight, while others try to kick a habit they wish they had never started.
For me, I look forward to the beginning of a new year as a time to make improvements, in both my personal or professional life.
Professionally, I am part of the agency relations department at the St. Louis Area Foodbank. Right now, our department is going through its’ own transformation, particularly for those of us who deal with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps.
The Foodbank’s service territory encompasses 14 counties in Missouri and 12 counties in Illinois. In 2012, we were only able to provide SNAP outreach assistance to clients at our partner agencies in our Illinois counties.
That meant thousands of clients in Missouri were left to navigate their own way through the sometimes complicated process of applying for SNAP.
But now, with the start of 2013, we will be able to provide SNAP assistance to all clients visiting one of our more than 500 partner agencies in both Illinois and Missouri.
This new ability to provide SNAP assistance to Missouri clients seeking food assistance means a great deal to families in need. Many of these families never had the opportunity or the means to apply for SNAP themselves.
Many were not able to make it to their local Illinois Department of Human Services office or Missouri Department of Social Services, the sites where they can apply for SNAP.
For some rural clients, there is no local aid office where they can receive assistance. Even if there is an office in a neighboring county, many of our clients do not have the transportation – or gas money – to get there.
Many clients don’t even know they are eligible for SNAP, and some need that extra nudge to look into additional assistance for their families.
Now that we’re able to provide SNAP assistance in both states, the Foodbank is expanding our SNAP outreach efforts to senior facilities.
Now, not only will be able to provide almost 10,000 seniors with a much-needed box of food, but we will be able to assist them with food stamp applications. We can help them ensure they are utilizing all food assistance programs available to them.
We are very excited about these new opportunities to help our clients in need. This year will be a great one at the St. Louis Area Foodbank. I hope you will continue supporting us along the way as we continue to fight hunger in our community.
For SNAP assistance in Missouri email Suzi Seeker at firstname.lastname@example.org; in Illinois, contact Andrea Hale at email@example.com.
Andrea Hale is the SNAP Outreach Coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank.
Fifteen years ago, Darren Smith found himself between jobs, struggling to provide for his growing family.
To help put food on the table, Darren sought help from the Sharing Our Sources food pantry in Bellefontaine Neighbors, a St. Louis Area Foodbank partner agency.
At the time, the Share Our Sources pantry was run by elderly volunteers who struggled to keep up with the demands of running the agency.
Darren offered to help at the pantry, and quickly became their most valuable volunteer.
I started volunteering and then the pastor gave me a job working at the church and with the food pantry,” Darren says. “Next thing you know I was running it.”
Darren’s work at the pantry brought him to the Foodbank, where he picked up food donations for families in need. Back then, the Foodbank was located at 5959 St. Louis Avenue, in a small warehouse.
I used to pick up food and take it back to our site and give it out to clients,” Darren says. “I walked in the Foodbank one day, looked around and thought, ‘I want to work here.’”
Five years later, Darren was hired as a warehouse associate at the Foodbank. One of his earliest jobs was working hands on with our partner agencies, monitoring the food they picked up in the shopping area.
Over the last 12 years, Darren has served in many roles at the Foodbank, from donated inventory control coordinator to front desk coordinator. Agency volunteers he has worked with over the years are quick to comment on his friendly demeanor and knowledge about hunger relief.
In the last decade, Darren has seen countless changes in the Foodbank. The biggest perhaps, was the move to our current facility in Bridgeton.
“It has grown so large, compared to where it was. We’re feeding more people. I’m seeing more food go out the door,” Darren says. “I’m seeing more and more new clients coming in, so it has to be working.”
Nowadays, Darren is the facilities manager at the Foodbank. He is responsible for the entire 100,000 square foot building and the surrounding grounds.
His work keeps him involved in all the day-to-day operations at the Foodbank.
“The hardest part of my job is staying in my boundaries. I always want to be involved in every area of the organization,” Darren says.
One thing is certain, Darren and his staff make it possible for everyone here at the Foodbank to work harder to provide more food to families in need.
It’s a role he is proud of, and rightly so.
“Because I ran a food pantry, I’ve actually seen the people that we serve,” Darren says. “So when I see all this food going out the door I know that there are hungry people being served.”
Bethany Prange is the communications coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank
Darren Smith is the facilities manager at the St. Louis Area Foodbank
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.
Pam Imboden is the Marketing and Development Manager at Crider Health Center
Imagine you’ve worked a long day at the office, dealing with all the deadlines and responsibilities that come with a full-time job. And now, on top of your normal worries and obligations, you go home to find an empty refrigerator and cupboard. You have no idea what to feed your family.
For many of us, this reality simply means we need to make a trip to the store.
Unfortunately, running to the store is not an option for many of the clients served by the St. Louis Area Foodbank. By the middle of the month, they no longer have enough money left to buy food.
So for these individuals, the choices are limited. They can borrow food from friends or visit a food pantry. But sometimes the only available choice is to simply go without.
As the Foodbank’s SNAP Outreach Coordinator, I have the opportunity to meet many hard-working Americans who are struggling to put food on the table. For the clients I meet, the basic costs of living are far higher than the income they earn.
That’s why the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is so important.
According to USDA, “many SNAP recipients are currently employed but they still need additional assistance so that they can put nutritious food on the table for their families. More than 29 percent of SNAP households had earnings in 2009 and 40 percent of all SNAP participants lived in a household with earnings.”
What is SNAP?
SNAP is the program formerly known as food stamps. It is this federal program that helps low-income individuals and families purchase healthy food.
SNAP benefits are placed on a plastic card (LINK in Illinois; EBT in Missouri) each month. The card works much like a debit card and can be used at grocery stores, convenience stores, farmers markets and co-ops.
Who is Eligible?
SNAP eligibility rules can be complex, but the most important factors to determine eligibility and amount available are the income and expenses of the household. The program also considers the number of people who live in the household and buy and prepare food together.
Importance and Impact
SNAP has been shown to reduce childhood food insecurity and the negative impact on cognitive and academic development as children grow older. Also, it allows families to transition to self-sufficiency and financial stability. Most participants leave the program within nine months. The dollar amount of SNAP benefits decreases 24 to 36 cents for every dollar earned by the individual.
SNAP not only allows families to purchase much-needed healthy food, but it also makes a positive impact on the local economy. Every dollar in SNAP benefits spent generates an additional $1.79 in local economic activity, helping create revenue for local food retailers and farms. A 5 percent increase in SNAP participate would generate $1.8 billion in new economic activity nationwide.
Many who are eligible for SNAP benefits do not take advantage of the program. Sometimes they are too proud to accept help. In other cases, people in need do not have proper access to the application process. Some families in need may not even know they are eligible.
Each year, there are about $65 million benefits for low-income families that go unclaimed.
These resources could be used to provide good assistance for families who desperately need it. That’s why spreading awareness about SNAP facts is so important.
According to USDA research, 96 percent of Americans are aware of SNAP/food stamps, but only 43 percent of those who do not participate actually know they are eligible.
St. Louis Area Foodbank SNAP Outreach Efforts
The St. Louis Area Foodbank makes a conscious effort to educate and provide assistance to our clients. Every week, I visit our partner agencies – soup kitchens, shelters and food pantries – and provide application assistance to our clients.
I assist them with SNAP applications, answer questions, and guide them through the entire process from application submission to case management with their local Department of Human Services office.
Some clients I have assisted did not understand the program or even realize they were eligible. It is rewarding to help a family in need get food assistance through SNAP.
SNAP Outreach allows individuals and families the ability to continue to live productive and healthy lives. I am honored to be able to serve some of the most vulnerable individuals in the community.