Distribution center expansion will provide millions more meals
Richard and Janice, both 78, were first in line waiting for their local food pantry to open on a recent windy January morning.
They’ve received help from People Helping People in Republic for years, and say that the pantry is an invaluable resource.
The couple married in 1960 and Richard went on to have a successful career as a landscaper. Now retired, he struggles having enough to pay the bills. He even started, with his wife’s help, mowing their church’s lawn for extra income.
Laughing, Janice said, “That’s what keeps us young.”
Despite the couple’s cheerful spirit, they admit it is difficult to make ends meet.
“We’ve had so much medical bills. I just had surgery last Thursday and have had six surgeries since 2013,” Richard said. “It just gets pretty expensive.”
While at the pantry, Richard got a call from his health care provider following up on unpaid bills.
“We just pay what we can,” he said. “It just bogs us down.”
When asked if the pantry takes away the worry of having enough to eat, Janice said, “Oh you’re not kidding it does. It helps us a lot.”
Although food insecurity affects people of all ages, seniors are particularly vulnerable. Studies show that seniors who struggle with hunger have a lower nutrient intake and are at a higher risk for chronic health conditions and depression.
Seniors often face higher medical bills, causing them to choose between what they can afford, and sometimes that means skipping meals.
Ozarks Food Harvest is committed to bridging the meal gap across the Ozarks and meeting the needs of seniors, as well as families and children struggling with hunger.
That’s why this month The Food Bank announced the Ending Hunger, Building Hope capital campaign to build an additional 56,000 square-foot distribution center attached to its current facility in Springfield.
Since moving into the O’Reilly Center for Hunger Relief in 2009, Ozarks Food Harvest has increased its distribution from seven million to 17 million pounds of food provided annually. Unfortunately, the need across The Food Bank’s 28-county service area has continued to outpace distribution.
In fact, Ozarks Food Harvest was forced to turn away over one million pounds of food last year because it didn’t have the space, or the right kind of space, to accept the donations. That food could have helped seniors like Richard and Janice, and the hundreds of thousands of others who seek assistance through The Food Bank’s 270 member agencies.
The capital campaign has secured private gifts over the past year. Now Ozarks Food Harvest must raise another $900,000 in gifts by Dec. 1 to secure a $700,000 challenge grant from the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and close out the campaign.
Long-time supporter Commerce Bank stepped up with a pledge to support Ozarks Food Harvest’s capital campaign last year.
Doug Neff, Commerce Bank Springfield region CEO shared that his company supports The Food Bank because of its efficiency and smart use of resources to meet a critical need.
“Supporting Ozarks Food Harvest with a capital project like this is important to allow The Food Bank to continue to grow its ability to serve the need, and we wanted to be a part of that,” Neff said.
“It’s also the right thing to do. We’ve got to help our fellow citizens with their needs.”
In addition to support from businesses, foundations and individuals, a team of eight OFH board members and community leaders serve on the Capital Campaign Leadership Committee to help fundraise and advocate for the campaign.
Tim Bellanti, senior vice-president and Springfield division manager of Associated Wholesale Grocers, Inc., serves on Ozarks Food Harvest’s board and is a member of the campaign leadership committee.
He said fundraising for Ozarks Food Harvest has been a humbling experience and is proud that the organization sells itself with its reputation and the impact each dollar donated can make.
“Once we explain what can be accomplished by adding space to the existing facility, donors get on board quickly,” Bellanti said. “The current generation of donors have shown the desire to select very specific issues to address. They want to see, touch and feel their money at work. By supporting the facility expansion, more people in need will be able to eat. We live in a wonderful community that wants to address the fact that one in four children go to bed hungry every night. We must fix this problem and we will.”
With support from the public, Ozarks Food Harvest plans to break ground on the new distribution center early next year.
Seniors like Richard and Janice depend on The Food Bank, and the staff and board of directors are determined to make sure they don’t go hungry.
This new building will more than double The Food Bank’s current space, and will help provide millions of more meals to children, families and seniors in need of food assistance across southwest Missouri.
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