The heat — and the humidity — have settled in across the Midwest. Except for that, it’s a far cry from a typical summer full of outdoor festivals, summer camps, swimming, Cardinals baseball, stay-cations to the top of the Arch, Six Flags, the zoo, and the multitudes of other activities found across St. Louis and the surrounding region. Instead, people are isolated and many are facing difficulties they never thought they would — including the need to find help for the basics, including food.
Since the pandemic hit in mid-March, St. Louis Area Foodbank has been in hyper-drive and four months later it’s still full steam ahead. In fact, our partners, team, and food distributions continue to grow to new heights.
There is no playbook
With this pandemic, there is no playbook. And we had questions, lots of questions such as:
- Would we run into food supply chain issues?
- Would people continue to donate funds and food if their employment status changed?
- What would happen with food drives, particularly big ones like Stamp Out Hunger?
- Would we have to cancel fundraising events?
- How would volunteering in our volunteer center work? Would people continue to show up?
The answer we’ve found is, people step up in times of crisis. And fortunately, thanks to the fortitude and swift action of our staff, we quickly secured food and products (such as the initial, highly sought after toilet paper). We leveraged our partners and grantors that understood food was going to be a huge need in our region. And individual supporters and donors like you have poured in through our virtual doors. Volunteers have been deemed essential and while we adapted new procedures, we’re still able to hold several volunteers shifts weekly.
“Between March 16 – June 30, the Foodbank has distributed a whopping 16,795,542 meals across the region,” Meredith Knopp, executive director of St. Louis Area Foodbank shared at a press conference on July 9. “Our initial goal was 10 million meals in that timeframe which we surpassed by the first week of June.”
In that 15-week period, 552 Mobile Markets and Food Fairs took place — to put that in perspective, a total of 676 were held during a previous nine-month time frame.
Seventy new partners (and growing) are now on board to help distribute food for the foreseeable future. Not to mention the 500-plus partners we continue to work with across 14 Missouri and 12 Illinois counties.
With all that food going out, food needs to come in. Thanks to the many donors we’ve fostered during our 45-years, we’ve been able to keep the food coming in despite some supply chain shortages initially. A big thank you to USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program (aka known as the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program or CFAP) which has brought in more than 3,033,400 pounds of fresh produce to be distributed through June.
Several yearly food drives have been derailed but our region has stepped up with virtual food drives and fundraisers which have skyrocketed. More than 100 have taken place so far (we had eight all of 2019 in comparison).
In addition to the food we’re distributing, our team has so far helped 363 people in Missouri and 127 people in Illinois complete SNAP applications to help them put food on their table and inject dollars back into our local economy. That’s a 23 percent increase over the same time period last year.
Except that it won’t be steamy hot forever (although it feels like it now), we don’t know what’s in store down the road. What we do know is the Foodbank team and partners have been moving forward at breakneck speed and will continue to for as long as necessary. The smiles flashed and thank-yous heard when people receive food to keep us going. Stories about people who didn’t know how they were going to feed their family that week until they received food through us and our partners or about a 4-year-old who broke open her piggy bank to send in her worldly savings to help other kiddos she doesn’t know fills our hearts.