We’ll bet you came away from today’s Page 1 story with the same thoughts we had: simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming.
The story looks at the role Ozarks Food Harvest plays in feeding the people of Southwest Missouri. It serves a 28-county area that is home to more than than 1 million people, including our far corner of the state. Of those, 200,000 people are food insecure, meaning that they lack sufficient access to quality, nutritious food.
In Jasper County, 13.3% of our neighbors are food insecure, as are more than 18 percent of the children; in Newton County, those numbers are 12% and 16.4%.
Families served by Ozarks Food Harvest and its network of 270 nonprofit food pantries such as Crosslines have an annual average income of $10,000, and two-thirds of those families say they frequently must choose between paying for food or paying for utilities.
Like we said, heartbreaking.
But last year, Ozarks Food Harvest distributed 21 million pounds of food to people in those 28 counties.
They do this with the help of volunteers — 3,500 of them — and a small staff. Ozarks Food Harvest provided the equivalent of more than 2 million meals to Jasper and Newton counties (and nearly $20,000 collectively in cash grants).
Imagine that, more than 3,500 people melding talent, passion and energy to make sure our neighbors have a meal. Last year, these volunteers put in 35,000 hours.
Donations account for 70% of the food, by the way, from Walmart, Tyson Foods, General Mills, Gilster-Mary Lee, Opal Foods, and many others.
What’s the takeaway?
• We live in an area of poverty and depressed wages, and many of our neighbors need help. By the way, 80% of people who get help from Crosslines come from a household in which at least one person is working. Food insecurity isn’t an issue of people unwilling to work, but of working poor.
• There are enough good hearts and minds, willing hands and strong backs in the area to make a difference.
We thank Ozarks Food Harvest, not only for the mercy and meals it provides so many in the region, but also for reminding us that people want to and are willing to help, and that by combining those hearts, minds, hands and backs we can make a real difference.
Like we said, heartwarming.