As we head into 2013, I have new hope about the prospects of significantly reducing the amount of people going hungry in America.
Here are 13 reasons the future looks brighter:
• The St. Louis Area Foodbank’s school food pantry program – Children make up the largest percentage of those in need of assistance from the Foodbank. We were happy to be able to open a food pantry in the Jennings School District in 2012 and we hope to be able to expand the program in 2013. To learn more about the program, click here to view the article on STLToday.com.
• The “Invest an Acre” program – ADM, The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Monsanto and Feeding America have partnered to launch Invest an Acre, a program that encourages farmers across the country to donate one or more acres of crop proceeds to help fight hunger in their own communities.
• More client choice food pantries – The client choice model allows clients to participate in choosing the food they will take home instead of being handed a prepackaged bag of food. This model provides more dignity to individuals receiving items from the pantry, and eliminates unwanted or wasted food. Click here for a web exclusive video from NBC’s Dateline that follows a young mother as she picks up food for her family at a client choice food pantry.
• The St. Louis Area Foodbank’s Social Media Avengers – The Social Media Avengersstarted out as an idea to encourage influential social media users in the bi-state region to take an active approach to the issue of hunger. It became a network of people promoting the Foodbank and our mission across many different platforms from Facebook to Twitter. In the past year, the Foodbank has added 1,000 new followers on Twitter and received more than 500 new Facebook likes. Avengers have also volunteered at Foodbank mobile distributions, offered guidance on Foodbank events and even helped launch a Twitter hashtag – #ABetter STL which helps promote other nonprofits doing good in our community.
• Celebrities getting behind the cause – Let’s face it, we live in a celebrity culture. People are fascinated by who is pregnant, who is getting divorced, and who just got arrested. However, it’s also good to see more celebrities using their influence for good. Nick Cannon recently sat down with Lester Holt on NBC’s Dateline to speak about his personal experiences receiving food from a food pantry as a kid. Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks across the country, has established an entertainment council comprised of various celebrities that help bring awareness to the issue.
• Addressing food deserts – A food desert is a district in an urban or rural setting with little or no access to large grocery stores. In these neighborhoods, residents have little or no access to fresh and affordable foods needed to maintain a healthy diet. Instead of such stores, these districts often contain many fast food restaurants and convenience stores. Through organizations like Fresh Moves in Chicago and City Greens in St. Louis, individuals are working to bring fresh produce into these food deserts. The Foodbank also works to get produce into the hands of those that desperately need it through our Food Fairs and our Mobile Market Program.
• Kids giving back – It is so encouraging to see young people getting involved with fighting hunger in their communities. Sarah, an eighth grader from Maryland Heights, collected 130 pounds of food from her friends at her birthday party. Since 2004, students at Mary Institute Country Day School have been collecting turkeys for hungry families in the region. This year alone, they collected more than 7,000 pounds of turkeys. In addition to all the food collected through food drives, the list of schools that have come out to the Foodbank are too numerous to list here.
• Retail store pick-up program growth – The Foodbank’s retail store pick-up program has come a long way since we were a pilot program location for Sam’s Club stores. The Foodbank now picks up from 138 retail stores located on both sides of the river. That’s up from 105 participating stores the year before. The program provides more food for those in need and reduces the amount of product discarded by the stores.
• New events – In August 2012, the Foodbank held the first ever “Hunger Is No Laughing Matter” comedy event at the Pageant with Mike Birbiglia and Greg Warren. The event sold more than 800 tickets and plans are already underway for this year’s event. Joining Hunger is No Laughing Matter and the Taste of the NFL as signature Foodbank events isWine, Women and Shoes. This new event will take place on May 29 at the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton. Tickets are available here. These signature events generate not only additional funds to help bring more food into the area, but also additional awareness for the Foodbank and the issue of hunger.
• Increased community support – In 2012, nearly 500 area schools, businesses and organizations held food and funds drives for the Foodbank. That’s an amazing number and once the food arrives at the Foodbank, it needs to be sorted and repackaged to be distributed to our partner agencies. That leads to the next amazing number – 16,000. That’s the number of volunteers who spent time helping out at the Foodbank in 2012. It’s also 4,000 more volunteers than we had the year before.
• Disaster relief – When disaster strikes, Americans pitch in to help out. The most recent example took place after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the east coast. It was so encouraging to see organizations like Feeding America working with local food banks and other disaster relief agencies to get food into the hands of those who needed it most. Locally, the Foodbank worked with Ozarks Food Harvest in Springfield after the devastating tornado in Joplin, sending supplies and staff to help in the rebuilding effort. After a tornado hit the Bridgeton area in 2011, the Foodbank worked with the United Way to get supplies to those affected by the storm.
• Government officials get involved – Hunger is a bi-partisan issue. The Foodbank has hosted Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and most recently, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt, over the past few years. We’ve also received support at Food Fairs from the offices of U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, IL State Representative John Bradley and U.S. Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson. It’s important to keep all officials aware of how hunger affects their constituents.
• Long term planning – It’s nice to come to work every day knowing that everyone in the building, no matter what their position in the organization, is working towards a common goal. That’s what we have here at the Foodbank. Our senior management team has the experience to know where we’ve been and foresight to guide us into the future. Ending hunger is a daunting proposition, but we know that we have the strategic plan in place to ensure that we are distributing as much food as possible and growing with the need.
Ryan Farmer is the communications manager at the St. Louis Area Foodbank