By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Volunteers at St. Peter’s Outreach House are seeing their supply of food diminish, but there is no drop in need.
“We are starting to see deficiencies in some of our foodstuffs,” said St. Peter’s volunteer Marge O’Brian. “It’s not like we can’t provide enough food to put meals on the table at this point, but we’re starting to see holes in the shelves and no backup food in the warehouses.”
OZARKS FOOD HARVEST
That’s the case at food banks areawide supplied by the Ozarks Food Harvest, as economic conditions put pressure on family budgets and create more need beyond that of those left homeless or jobless after the May 22 tornado.
Ozarks Food Harvest supplies food pantries, church outreaches and children’s feeding programs at 300 sites in 28 Southwest Missouri counties.
The organization has sent more than 100 tractor-trailer trucks full of food to Joplin since the day after the tornado hit.
“The first couple of weeks after the storm hit, we were seeing requests for items for first responders such as water, Gatorade, protein bars and other handheld snacks,” said Bart Brown, president of the Springfield-based food harvest. “But what has changed, beginning in July, is that people are starting to find transitional housing and move back into the Joplin area, and requests have changed to things that you have to have to stock a home. So we’ve seen a real change in the things that are being requested.”
Three truckloads a day of those supplies are bound for Joplin, Brown said.
Because contributions have not kept pace with demand, the harvest has spent $80,000 so far to buy needed foods.
Volunteers and relief workers are being fed at churches on food provided by the harvest.
Brown said the economy is affecting the organization. Recent increases in fuel prices and the heat wave driving up utility bills reduce the money available to spend on groceries, and send more people to food pantries to make ends meet. It also costs more to transport the food to distribution sites. Brown said the harvest is spending $2,000 a week to truck its products to Joplin.
Unemployment resulting from the tornado also is a factor.
The Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce estimates that 5,000 jobs were lost or impacted in some way but that employers have kept 3,500 employees on their payrolls, according to Kirstie Smith, communications director for the chamber. There have been 1,200 disaster-related unemployment claims filed since the tornado, she said.
“So we’re seeing an increase in the need for food all across the board,” Brown said.
Those who can help fill the need, Brown said, are being asked to donate.
People can make contributions through the organization’s website at www.ozarksfoodharvest.org or through www.rebuildjoplin.org.
The organization also is encouraging groups to hold food drives and individuals to make donations.
Items most needed are boxed dinners, macaroni and cheese, canned fruits and vegetables, protein sources, staples including flour, sugar, salt, pepper and spices, condiments, and disposable eating utensils and plates.
Paper goods, cleaning supplies and hygiene items are not needed now, Brown said.
O’Brian said that donations have slipped, but need has not. “We want all the help we can get. If it comes in, it will go out.”
“Our message to Joplin is we’re going to be there for the long term.” — Bart Brown, Ozarks Food Harvest