For many, the holidays mean big family dinners with tables full of delicious food. But for others, a meal at any time is hard to come by, much less during the cold weather months when limited budgets dictate heat over turkeys. These local organizations are working to feed needy families during the holidays and all year round.
On Nov. 4, Food Outreach will partner with St. Louis BWorks for its seventh annual Cranksgiving, a bike ride that doubles as a food drive as the route takes participants past local grocery stores, where they purchase and donate non-perishable items. With more than 7,000 food items donated annually, the event helps the organization meet the spike in demand that comes as the holidays arrive. “We’re going into that increased need period as the colder months arrive. Higher utility bills are kicking in and people tend to eat more in the colder weather, so we see more people coming in,” says Food Outreach executive director Greg Lukeman.
Now in its 24th year, Food Outreach provides nutritional support while enhancing the quality of life for people living with cancer or HIV/AIDS. The organization offers an integrated frozen prepared meal and grocery program with a registered dietician to specialize the services to each individual’s needs. A hot lunch every Monday, as well as nutrition education and cooking classes, enhances the offerings that Food Outreach makes available to its 2,000 clients and their families.
While food drives throughout the year help gather needed items, targeted efforts during the holidays by various local organizations enable Food Outreach to provide more for its clients, including extra food packages and the occasional turkey, Lukeman notes. In addition, extra fundraising allows the nonprofit distribute to clients approximately 750 gift bags filled with personal care items and a few treats like candy canes to spread the holiday spirit. “With all of our efforts, we’re on target to provide half a million meals by the end of this year,” Lukeman says. “It’s all about empowering and partnering with the clients.”
Operation Food Search
With the challenging economic climate, Operation Food Search’s partner agencies have reported a 30-percent increase in food assistance requests. As the weather turns cold, those requests will continue to rise, says executive director Sunny Schaefer. “During the holidays, people naturally turn their thoughts to helping others, so there’s an outpouring of support, but keeping up with the need is almost impossible.”
While the needs are daunting, Operation Food Search does what it can to make a difference. The hunger relief organization helps feed the area hungry by collecting food from all segments of the local food industry, then distributing that food to a network of 250 partner agencies such as emergency food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters. In addition, its Operation Backpack program feeds hungry children during the weekend when they are not in school and may not have easy access to meals.
Operation Food Search relies on the community’s willingness to step up during the holidays to aid in its additional efforts. The organization reaches out to food vendors and individuals for assistance in obtaining turkeys, organizes food drives and encourages financial donations. “For every $1 we get, we’re able to collect and distribute $22 worth of food,” Schaefer notes.
Recognizing that more food is not the only thing needed as the holidays arrive, Operation Food Search has teamed up with Kurt Warner’s First Things First Foundation for the Warner’s Warm-Up Coat Drive through Nov. 14. The organization hopes to collect 15,000 coats for the region’s disadvantaged during the harsh winter months.
Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry
The Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry is interested in anything it can do to give people the necessities of daily life. While food is its main business, the food pantry welcomes basic items that can help improve someone’s life—something as simple as a fleece blanket as the temperature drops. “People want to contribute and we just want it to be really beneficial for our clients, while at the same time being fulfilling for our donors, as well,” says community outreach coordinator Donald Meissner.
A program of Jewish Family and Children’s Services, the Jewish Food Pantry feeds approximately 5,000 people every month. Clients can come to the pantry once a month for enough food to last for seven to 10 days. While the pantry has canned and dry goods, it always is looking for more supplies, particularly fresh fruit, vegetables and kosher meat.
In the next couple months, the Jewish Food Pantry expects to see an uptick in the number of people relying on the program for food, and it relies on the response from the community to meet the need. “Someone just bringing in a donation really helps us get through the season,” Meissner says.
Additional food drives also help, and more volunteers step up to assist at the pantry. While Meissner is grateful for the extra help, he hopes that the increased interest can carry over past the holidays. “What we wish is that people will come to volunteer and realize that they can come back anytime—people are hungry all year round.”
Society of St. Vincent de Paul
People want to do something special for their families during the holidays, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul does what it can to help make that happen, says development director Robert Vogel. “Each chapter or conference works to serve its own neighborhood. Sometimes it’s a special dinner program during the holidays or coordinating a turkey or ham drive, but they try to meet the needs at a local level.”
Founded in 1845 as the oldest charity in St. Louis, St. Vincent de Paul operates 143 chapters throughout the St. Louis area and eastern Missouri. Among the many services the society offers families in need is access to food pantries located in 83 of the locations. Some are no bigger than a closet, while others are stocked like corner drugstores, Vogel says. The pantries rely on donations from grocery stores and food distributors or manufacturers, as well as individual contributions. The self-funded Catholic organization also hands out food gift cards to families, totaling $70,000 this past year.
While families want to do something special for each other during the holidays, they often think more about giving back during that time, as well. St. Vincent de Paul fields calls from those looking to help, and while it does not have regular volunteer opportunities like a soup kitchen, it encourages donations, whether it’s food or financial contributions. Although ham and turkeys are highly requested during the holidays, fresh fruit, vegetables and meat always are in critical demand, no matter what time of the year it is, Vogel explains. “That’s the biggest challenge we have and people are in need of those items all the time; not just at the holidays.”