Jane Wood, coordinator of Hope Food Pantry, stands in front of the truck donated by the St. Louis Area Foodbank / Photo by Bethany Prange
Each partner agency of the St. Louis Area Foodbank is unique.
While most of our partner pantries, shelters and soup kitchens are operated by churches or community organizations, each agency varies in size and budget.
For instance, a large organization like the Salvation Army of St. Louis may be operated very differently from a rural food pantry in Carlyle, Ill.
Still, all St. Louis Area Foodbank agencies do have a few things in common.
Nearly all Foodbank agencies are supported by hard-working groups of volunteers. Most are operated by unpaid staff who struggle to feed needy families with only the limited funding that comes from donations and grants.
So when the Foodbank gets the rare opportunity to provide one of our agencies with more than just food, we jump at the chance.
Once a year, we host an agency conference where we educate our pantry directors and volunteers about the latest information and techniques. And from time to time, the Foodbank is fortunate to be able to pass on equipment to our pantries, shelters and soup kitchens.
In May 2011, the Foodbank donated one of our old refrigerated trucks to Hope Food Pantry in Waterloo, Ill.
The truck donated to Hope was no longer running, and didn’t meet the Foodbank’s needs.
So when we heard Hope Food Pantry was in desperate need of a refrigerated truck, we knew we could help.
The truck was in pretty bad shape, but Hope volunteers were thrilled with the donation. They towed the truck to their pantry and began working to fix it.
“The motor was blown,” says Jane Wood, coordinator of Hope Food Pantry. “We tried three different motors from the salvage yard – they didn’t fit.”
Wood finally found the right motor. The truck also needed new rear tires and some basic maintenance.
“Our church supported us in purchasing the motor,” Wood says.
By the end of June 2012, the truck was ready for the road. Pantry volunteer John Vernier took tests to get his Commercial Drivers License in Illinois. Wood later took her CDL test.
The truck, with Vernier at the wheel, has already been making life easier for the volunteers of Hope Food Pantry.
“We needed the refrigeration unit because when we pick up meat and produce from the Foobank and produce from Walmart and Schnucks, we need a way to keep it cold,” Wood says.
Hope picks up donations from Walmart and Schnucks five days a week, so the truck gets steady use.
The truck has been a huge asset for the pantry, which continues to grow.
“Since I started as coordinator two years ago, the number of families we serve has doubled,” Wood says.
Hope currently provides food to about 400 families a month.
Pantry volunteers are particularly grateful for the truck’s lift gate. Before they received the truck, they had to either manually lift product in and out of their vehicles, or get a volunteer to bring a skidster to unload.
“It’s a life saver for our backs,” Wood says. “It’s diesel and we’re getting better gas mileage.”
Deacon Arstell Jones of Good News Baptist Church in Jennings agrees that a donated truck can make a world of difference. His food pantry received a donated refrigerated box truck from the Foodbank in August 2012.
Though the volunteers at Good News have only had their truck about a month, they’re quick to note how much of a blessing the donation has been, particularly on food pick up days.
Before they received the donated truck, Deacon Jones and his colleagues used their own personal vehicles to pick up food at the St. Louis Area Foodbank. Over the years, food has been damaged and lost when the cars and trucks couldn’t carry the load.
“We once had 3,800 pounds in a pickup truck that is only supposed to haul 1,800,” Deacon Jones says. “The load was so heavy we couldn’t drive off with it.”
When Foodbank staff saw this predicament, they suggested that Good News be considered to receive one of the Foodbank’s used refrigerated box trucks.
Deacon Jones and his colleagues pick up food from the Foodbank three times a week and on an average pantry day, Good News provides food to more than 140 families.
“We’ve really doubled since last year because so many people are out of work,” Deacon Jones says.
The pantry also serves 100 seniors who receive monthly boxes of food through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. The food pantry feeds about 200 people during its twice a month mobile market program.
“We needed the transportation,” Deacon Jones says. “We’d still be using the smaller pickup.”
When they started the pantry six years ago, Good News had just four skids of zucchini. Last year, Deacon Jones and his colleagues picked up 75,000 pounds of food to give out to families in need.
In 2010, they picked up 900,000 pounds – but were unable to keep up with that amount due to a lack of transportation.
But now, thanks to the donated truck, that problem is solved.
“We can go get a full load to make sure we can feed the people,” Jones says. “Whenever they give us a call we’re ready. Tim Jackson’s been very helpful. He gave us a lot of stuff to help us through hard times.”
Bethany Prange is the communications coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank