Of Poppies & Pantries

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Driving toward Columbia, I passed a unique food truck: Kraft Foods Mobile Pantry, the truck’s logo said, operated by the Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri. I gave a thumbs up to the driver — my show of support for an organization that delivers to many families who don’t have enough to eat or the transportation to get to a food pantry.

Thank goodness food is plentiful in Columbia. Grocery stores are open ‘round the clock. Any time of day ten bucks will get you the fast food you crave.

Approaching November’s biggest holiday, we prepare for the Thanksgiving feast. Most American households produce their most elaborate meal of the year. Same story in Canada, albeit a different date.

But in Europe, the biggest November holiday happens on Armistice Day, to commemorate the end of “The War to End All Wars.” The British call it Remembrance Day. Americans call it Veterans Day. Worldwide, its nickname is Poppy Day.

I thought back to a Poppy Day experience I had in London a few Novembers ago. The date was Nov. 11, an unseasonably warm day, and a crowd had gathered at the entrance to Westminster Abbey. I walked to the gate, where a guard turned me away.

“Special Remembrance Day ceremony,” he said.

I told him, “I’m an American, and I came to pay my respects.” He graciously let me in, even though I was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt.

Once inside, I took a seat in an unoccupied corner of a nave, in an empty row of folding chairs. As the mayor of London spoke from a distant lectern, I looked around at the Britons nearest me. I couldn’t see them, because they were buried in the floor and the walls. But I saw their names: Charles Dickens. Alfred Lord Tennyson. Isaac Newton. From Edward the Confessor in 1163 to Sir Laurence Olivier in 1991, the walls of this abbey hold the bones of Britain’s brightest.

The ceremony was as solemn as our 9/ll commemorations. The war ended almost a century ago, and since then another major world war scorched Europe. But the British hold Armistice Day in deep reverence, remembering the death and destruction, suffering and starvation on an unprecedented scale.

Across the pond, America’s Veterans Day gets a nod, words of thanks, a moment of silence. Maybe we stick red poppies in our lapels to honor those who gave their lives for us. Then we continue our preparations for Thanksgiving, with a focus on the feast.

In Columbia, we can give thanks that Boone County’s unemployment rate is much lower than the national average and consistently lower than almost every other county in Missouri. So there’s no hunger in Columbia this Thanksgiving, right?

Hold onto your poppies: The 2016 Missouri Hunger Atlas, produced by Mizzou’s Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security, reports that in real numbers, 29,000 Boone Countians are food insecure, which the USDA defines as having “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods.”

The study reports a growing number of Boone County households (8.1 percent) — and nearly one in five Boone County children (18.2 percent) — are food uncertain.

It’s a complicated issue. Some nutrition delivery systems work well. Boone County’s school lunch program has a high participation rate (86% among eligible children). But the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program reaches less than half of Boone County’s eligible mothers.

There is good news. The amount of food distributed by the Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri has increased. They’re working to expand services targeting children and families and — new this year — homeless veterans, too, with their VIP Veterans food packs

VIP Veteran Packs

Bobbie Kincade was deeply troubled by this number she came upon one day — about 650-700 veterans in Boone County alone are living at or below the poverty level.

That did not sit well with Kincade, the associate director of the Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri, whose husband, brothers and father all have served in the armed forces. But the numbers confirmed what she’d been hearing from staff members who were seeing a growing need.

So last May, the Food Bank created its first VIP Veteran Pack. They are now distributed at the Central Pantry, the Welcome Home shelter serving homeless veterans, and Patriot Place housing for veterans.

The packs include cans of easy-open, shelf stable soups, pastas and other ready-to-eat meal items, protein bars and peanut butter packs — taking into account that many veterans they serve are homeless or without access to kitchens. They include personal hygiene products like soap, razors and toothbrushes and toothpaste when generous donors like Veterans United have chipped in. Right now, about 200 are distributed monthly.

“And that’s just scratching the surface,” Kincade says. There are roughly 6,000 veterans in dire poverty in the Food Bank’s 32-county service area. “This is an issue that’s near and dear to my heart and a need that, sadly, I don’t think is going to go away.”

 

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