Turning 35

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photo by L.G. Patterson

The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri turns 35 this year. And its executive director Lindsay Young Lopez wants you to know that this birthday is truly a community celebration. “This is our community’s food bank,” she says.

It’s an anniversary of sorts for Young Lopez, too, as she will celebrate her second year as the Food Bank’s leader this Nov. 3.

It was the day of her wedding anniversary, June 14, 2014, when she saw the front-page story in the Columbia Tribune about long-time food bank leader Peggy Kirkpatrick’s decision to retire.

“And I read the story, and I sat down and read it again, and I thought about it the whole weekend: ‘Maybe this is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for.’” She was in her 18th year of higher education fund raising — her seventh year at Columbia College following 11 at the University of Missouri.

“And those were tremendous experiences. It was very fulfilling work,” she says. “But you hit 40 and take stock of things and ask, ‘Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life?’”

The Food Bank opening supplied the answer. She applied and was appointed after a thorough vetting.

Building on an organization with a solid foundation, “we’re constantly assessing the need. If you live in poverty, you are food insecure: those go hand in hand. And looking at the number of people living in poverty in our service region, we know we would have to be distributing more than 40 to 44 million pounds of food annually to be coming closer to meeting the need.

“So, how do we get there?

“Those are the conversations we’ve been having, looking to the future and to our future growth.”

In the end, the millions of pounds of food distributed yearly translate into hunger eased, lives directly touched — the nurse raising five children on her own; the mother struggling to keep her family together as they temporarily live in a van; the child who marvels when given a raw carrot — something he’d never tasted before. Seniors, veterans, families, children: hunger affects them all, and the Food Bank aims to serve them all.

“I know that every day, every one of us — whether we work here or we volunteer here — when we walk through the door, we know that what we are doing is helping to change lives. It doesn’t get better than that.”

By The Numbers

31,438,687 pounds of food distributed

26,198,906 equivalent number of meals

$53,445,769 wholesale value of food

104,000 average # of people served monthly

32 counties served

18,000 square miles covered (roughly one-third of the state)

132 partner agencies, distribution points

24% of distributed food that was fresh produce (up from 19% prior year)

57 employees, including Central Pantry

42,949 volunteers, about half on-site

101,713 hours volunteered

43% of revenue from direct community monetary donations

18 vehicles, including 3 semis, moving food to agencies that distribute

mobile pantries that make

14 stops monthly

Source: 2015 Accomplishments, The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri

BUDDY PACKS 

During the school year, the Food Bank supplies Buddy Packs that go home Fridays and holidays to help tide hungry children over the days they are without school meals.

At $1.3 million to $1.4 million a year, the program is one of the Food Bank’s most costly, as it requires the purchase of kid-friendly foods of high nutritional value.

• 1 out of 5 – children who are food insecure (unsure at least once a month where the next meal will come from)

• 52 % – children who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch

• 7,500 Buddy Packs distributed a week — about 1,800 to Columbia children

• 157 schools

• 27 counties

“The Buddy Back represents the only meal that many children have over the weekends. It’s a lifeline,” Young Lopez says. “Seventy five hundred is a lot, but even at that, we’re not coming close to meeting the need that’s out there. How do we begin to close that gap?”

VIP VETERAN PACK 

More than 5,000 veterans in the 32-county service area live at or below the poverty line — about 650 in Columbia alone. Working with Welcome Home, Patriot Place and others, the Food Bank started a VIP Veteran Pack program this spring. Packs include ready-to-eat food like chewable nutrition bars, as well as personal hygiene items.

“Together, we can do far more than we can do individually when we team up to address people’s needs,” Young Lopez says.

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