Seeing the Face of Hunger Firsthand
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.
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 is a marketing associate at Standing Partnership and a St. Louis Area Foodbank Social Media Avenger