Churches help hungry with mobile food bank

Sunday, August 5, 2012
People line up at Harmony Church to receive food from the Southeast Missouri Food Bank. (Linda Redeffer ~ The Banner Press)

MARBLE HILL, Mo. -- Southeast Missouri continues to suffer from drought. Combined with the uncertainty in the economy, more people are depending on local food pantries.

The Southeast Missouri Mobile Food Bank makes regular forays into Bollinger County to help families stretch their food budget between paychecks. Even if families visit the local food pantries, often there isn't enough to feed a hungry family.

One way individuals, churches and other groups can help is by purchasing food through the food bank. For $600 the mobile food bank will deliver 300 pounds of food.

Recently the Women's Missionary Society of Harmony Church purchased their third load of food in as many months to give away, said Joyce Dunn, who was helping distribute food. The women plan to meet again to vote on whether they can continue the food distribution. In Zalma, the mobile pantry visits the General Baptist Church monthly.

The distribution at Harmony Church provided enough food for 163 families, said Missy McGowan of the Southeast Missouri Food Bank. Initially 50 to 60 families would turn out but the numbers are increasing.

"It's filling a gap," McGowan said. "Low-income people receiving food stamps and food from a local pantry don't always get enough."

Garry Major, president of the Bollinger County Chamber of Commerce, was waiting at the distribution at Harmony Church to help carry out a load of food for one of his neighbors. He said people need extra food because they're often underemployed. One local store schedules its employees 30 hours one week and 20 hours the following week.

"They can't afford to live that way," Major said.

McGowan said $600 buys enough food to feed 300 families. Each family receives between 7 and 10 pounds of food, including meat, cereal, a bakery item, bread, fresh produce and canned goods.

"It's a good variety of food," McGowan said.

Any food left over is left at the sponsoring church to give to latecomers or to other people in need at other times in between distributions. There isn't often much left over.

The mobile food bank covers 16 counties in Southeast Missouri, and depends on donations, the mobile pantries and sponsorships to help keep the trucks and pantries stocked. The need keeps growing.

When the mobile food bank started in November 2009, it delivered 52 truckloads throughout the 16 counties.

"In 2011 we had 101 mobiles in 12 months," McGowan said. "This year we have already had between 50 and 58 mobiles and over 50 are scheduled for the rest of the year. We stay pretty booked up."

The deliveries help feed about 55,000 individuals each month, McGowan said. She said she likes that the food bank is often able to provide fresh food, such as bananas and strawberries, because it gives children a taste of fresh healthy food.

"When I hear a child ask for a banana, I say, here, have a whole bunch," she said. "I love to see children excited about bananas."

Cape Girardeau food pantries are also seeing an increase in the demand for food.

Sister Lucille Zerr of the The St. Mary Cathedral and Old St. Vincent food pantry in Cape Girardeau attributes this increase to the drought.

The pantry is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays, but closed the last full week of the month. Zerr said on average they see 30 to 35 people each time they are open. However, the last time they were open there were 96 people requesting food.

"It just really tripled," Zerr said.

For the FISH food pantry in Cape Girardeau, the increase in demand for food began before the drought.

"We saw an increase before the drought hit," publicity chairwoman Nancy Bray said. "We attribute it just to the general economic conditions and general lack of jobs."

Bray said the pantry has seen an increase in the number of calls they receive and the number of people they are serving. She said most of their food comes from donations, and they have seen a decrease in these donations as a result of the economic conditions.

"Sometimes it has been a challenge to keep the shelves stocked, but we always meet requests," Bray said.

Southeast Missourian writer Ashley Jones contributed to this story.

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