SIKESTON, Mo. -- A $1 million grant to the Southeast Missouri Food Bank was made official Friday during a ceremony at the food bank's distribution center near Sikeston.
"The food bank has served the region for 27 years," said Karen Green, executive director of the Southeast Missouri Food Bank. "This is definitely a highlight."
The grant comes from the Missouri Foundation for Health, a St. Louis-based philanthropic organization, through its Emergency Food Access Project.
"We don't give a lot of grants this size," said Matthew Kuhlenbeck, program director for the foundation. "But this is an amazing investment. The benefit will carry on."
Green said the grant will be used to renovate the 64,000-square-foot distribution facility.
"We're talking about a new roof," she said. "We need refrigeration and freezer units so we won't have to move perishable foods out so quickly. New loading docks for transport trucks are also needed."
Since 2007, the food bank has operated out of a warehouse on Nash Road in Cape Girardeau. It has outgrown that space as the number of people needing food assistance has increased in the 16 Southeast Missouri counties it serves. In July 2012, the food bank purchased its current distribution center with a $900,000 USDA Rural Development loan to alleviate the space problem.
"We will continue to have our office in Cape Girardeau," Green said. "But when renovations are completed in Sikeston, it will be our only distribution center."
According to Green, the Missouri Foundation for Health contacted her in December about a grant through the auspices of its Emergency Food Access Project, which seeks to increase food distribution while enhancing access to nutritious and fresh-food options.
"They approached us about providing help," Green said. "They asked us what our most pressing needs were, and I told them of our need for renovations."
Green said members of the foundation visited the distribution center to see for themselves. About two months later, she learned what the food bank would be receiving.
"We had a conference call with the foundation and when they announced we would be getting $1 million, I nearly fell out of my chair," she said.
The foundation also provided grants of $1 million to the St. Louis Area Food Bank, the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri in Columbia, Mo., and the Ozarks Food Harvest in Springfield, Mo.
Kuhlenbeck said the last grant awarded that was comparable in size was after the Joplin tornado in 2011.
"We gave a $1.5 million grant after the tornado to mental-health agencies in the Joplin area," he said. "There were a lot of people trying to cope with what had happened to them."
The Southeast Missouri Food Bank will receive its grant from the foundation during the next two years. Under its terms, at least $200,000 must be applied toward infrastructure improvements for the food bank's more than 170 community-based partners in Southeast Missouri. One of them is the Flame of Hope Food Pantry in East Prairie, Mo.
"We're averaging about 275 families per month who come in for food products," said Bill Allen, director of Flame of Hope. "We need to keep our food for them from spoiling, and I'd like to be able to receive funds for a walk-in refrigerator and freezer for our fruits and vegetables."
Legislators at the ceremony applauded the work being done by the food bank and realized how the economy must be taking its toll.
"I think it's nice they're getting a grant," said state Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R- Jackson. "In the economic times we're in, it's likely more and more people will have to rely on their services."
State Rep. Steve Hodges, a Democrat running for the 8th Congressional District seat recently vacated by Jo Ann Emerson, noted things have changed from when he was young.
"We didn't need things like a food bank back then," Hodges said. "It's a sign of the economic times, and there's something wrong with that."
For additional information, visit the Southeast Missouri Food Bank at semofoodbank.org and the Missouri Foundation for Health at mffh.org.
600 State Highway H, Sikeston, MO
3920 Nash Road, Cape Girardeau, MO