Feeding the hungry: Southeast Missouri Food Bank dedicates building, adjusting to economy

Monday, November 10, 2008
FRED LYNCH ~ flynch@semissourian.com
The Southeast Missouri Food Bank warehouse is located on Nash Road.

The slowing economy is having an effect on the Southeast Missouri Food Bank.

Since earlier this year, director Karen Green has seen a 20 percent increase in demand for food items. And she expects that demand to only go up as the holiday season approaches.

"In June we really saw the numbers jump," Green said. "The stock market and housing crisis has really hurt people in this area and throughout the country.

"Until the economy turns around, I expect things to only get worse," Green continued. "Those with the least are hurt the most."

She said that what is normally donated to the food bank has instead been given to areas hit hard by natural disasters.

These difficult times make it even more vital for the Food Bank to make itself known to the community, board member Lester Goodin said.

"It's going to be harder to get food from those who normally give food to us and those who have yet to do so," Goodin said. "When hurricanes and floods come, those events take precedence over our needs. It's important to get food to people that are hungry and that's the important role we and our sources can play by donating goods and their time to the food bank."

However, board member Tim Powderly added that it is not just during difficult economic times that people go hungry and need organizations like the food bank to lend a hand.

"When the economy is booming there are still good people who are unemployed and can't make ends meet," Powderly said. "The current economic condition just multiplies the problem, and now more than ever, people need help. Every family we feed one by one is a start but we need different communities' support."

To increase its ability to serve the community, the food bank moved in early March from its original location in Sikeston, Mo., to 920 Nash Road in Scott City. The move increased its space from 10,000 to 25,000 square feet. A ribbon cutting is scheduled for at 1:30 p.m. today.

The former location was established in 1985. When Green became director in January 2007, she determined the food bank needed to change its name from the Bootheel Food Bank and move to a more centralized location.

"Changing our name better reflected the area we serve," Green said. "The new location also increased our visibility and since we're near the interstate, those who come in and out of our facility [can] do so quickly."

Like the Sikeston location, which still houses a food pantry, the food bank pays nearly $100,000 a year in rent. While Green said the food bank could purchase a new building, she doesn't want to go into debt to do so.

"The money we use for rent could go toward food," Green said. "What we'd love is to eventually purchase our own building or have an empty warehouse donated to us. But we're fine right now."

The food bank receives donations from such companies as Procter & Gamble, Sam's Club, Tyson Foods and many more. But even with an increase in donations, Green said the more than 140 agencies will provide 4 million pounds of food to about 64,000 people who live in the area, well short of their goal of 5.5 million pounds of food they'll serve by 2009. About one-third of those recipients are children.

"What we're doing is not just for the families but for the children so we can break the cycle," Powderly said. "If we can touch just one person, we can give that person a vision for change and hope. And that can change an entire generation and neighborhood."

The food bank serves the counties of Bollinger, Butler, Cape Girardeau, Carter, Dunklin, Madison, Mississippi, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Perry, Reynolds, Ripley, Scott, Ste. Genevieve, Stoddard and Wayne.

In addition to more food, Green said the food bank is in need of volunteers to type, clean, file, load food and perform other duties. The Sikeston food pantry has three churches who send between 10 and 15 people volunteers each to work there on a weekly basis. About six people volunteer at its Scott City location.

Green said one of the largest obstacles has been making the food bank noticeable in the community.

"A lot of people don't know we're here," Green said. "We're always look for individuals and businesses to help us spread the message about what we do. The food bank is a vital organization for this area and the individuals we serve."

To volunteer or request more information about the Southeast Missouri Food Bank, call 651-0400 or visit www.semofoodbank.org.



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