The first car rolls onto the fairgrounds of Hood Park in Cuba, Missouri, at 7 a.m. on Monday, March 30.
The car’s occupant will be at the head of the line for a Food Fair run by the Cuba Ministerial Alliance Food Pantry, one of four pantries serving Crawford County. The Ministerial Alliance is an agency served by the St. Louis Area Foodbank.
As the morning progresses, a small group of local volunteers helps unload nearly 28,000 pounds of food from two large trucks sent by the Foodbank. On the pallets are fresh fruits and vegetables, including potatoes, peppers, cabbages, apples, and oranges. There are several protein offerings, including 15-pound packs of bacon, whole hams and prosciutto slices. Also on hand are packages of frozen vegetables and bagels. Dairy offerings include milk and ice cream bars.
Three hours later, when the food fair kicks off, the fairgrounds parking lot is filled to overflowing with more than 350 vehicles. A long line of cars snakes back to the park’s entrance with people who will wait more than two hours for volunteers to fill their trunks or back seats with much-needed food assistance.
Linda Plank, the Ministerial Alliance Administrator, motions each vehicle to slowly approach the beer garden pavilion where small teams of gloved volunteers are stationed. On each windshield two numbers are chalked in white: the number of households and the number of people in each household. The amount of food loaded into each vehicle depends on those numbers.
Some vehicles hold a single occupant, but most are filled with parents and their children or members of extended families. A stay-at-home mom who needs help to feed her three children because her husband, who works in construction, isn’t getting much work due to stay at home orders. Seniors who have restricted food budgets. A disabled husband whose wife was laid off two weeks ago from her job at a nearby plant. A grandmother who cares for her grandchildren who can no longer clean houses due to COVID-19. Their stories are different, but their need for food assistance is much the same—and it is growing.
The Alliance’s mobile market last week in Hood Park attracted more than 350 vehicles. The need was so great that the pantry ran out of food to distribute before every car was served. Today, thanks to the St. Louis Area Foodbank, Plank and the other volunteers are confident there will be enough food to meet the demand. The food fair draws people not only from Cuba but from surrounding communities like Sullivan and St. James. According to Plank, the food pantry serves approximately 500 families per month. However, since the outbreak of COVID-19, she has been seeing an uptick in the number of families coming to the food pantry for assistance.
“The need is great always,” says Plank, “but it’s even greater now.”
Written by a Guest Contributor