Food helps families through holidays
“There were a lot of times when we didn’t have a whole lot and were just trying to get by,” she said.
Even after qualifying for SNAP, or food stamps, the family still struggled to have enough every month for food. A single mom, Michelle isn’t able to work due to a disability.
“There have been times when my food stamps have been cut,” she said. “It’s a challenge. Especially in December because you do have Christmas shopping and higher utilities. There’s just more expenses in the winter time.”
About a year ago, Michelle learned about Least of These, an Ozarks Food Harvest member pantry serving Christian County.
“It’s just been a huge blessing to us,” she said. “It bridges the gap … otherwise I’d be spending money that we need for rent and utilities, so instead we’re able to pay those bills and not have as much stress about it. [My kids] are grateful for it.”
Least of These serves 2,200 individuals on average every month. It receives food and infrastructure grants from Ozarks Food Harvest to assist the needs of the families it serves.
The pantry also participates in programs like Retail Pick-Up. This initiative began in 2007 to reduce food waste and support families in need by working with area grocery stores to source food that doesn’t meet standards for retail sales, but remains safe for consumption.
Over the past year, 75 grocery stores donated 5.8 million pounds of food accounting for 33 percent of all the meals Ozarks Food Harvest and its pantries and programs distribute.
One participating grocer, Aldi, added additional stores to the Retail Pick-Up Program this summer. Currently, eight Aldi stores participate. District Manager Kelley Collins said the program fits well with Aldi’s mission of corporate responsibility.
“We hate food waste, Aldi is a very efficient organization,” she said. “We want to make sure that all the way to the very end use of our product is being used most efficiently. It’s wonderful knowing we can pass it along and give back.”
Collins said she enjoys reading the monthly reports showing how many meals Aldi has been able to provide with its donations and “seeing the true impact, knowing it’s not going to waste.”
With more than 70 billion pounds of food going to waste across the country each year, programs that rescue food to provide it to those struggling with hunger are critical and growing.
Another way Ozarks Food Harvest is recovering food is through the Full Circle Gardens Program. In 2016, nearly 20,000 pounds of produce that might have gone to waste was gleaned from local farms and gardens thanks to volunteers donating thousands of hours of time.
Farmers often have more crops than they can sell, so by partnering with Ozarks Food Harvest, this fresh, locally grown food is providing nutritious meals to people struggling to have enough food.
For families like Michelle’s, these donations from grocers and farmers are a lifesaver.
“I don’t know what I would do without them and without the people that donate,” she said of Least of These and its supporters.
And thanks to the pantry’s Adopt a Family Christmas Program, Michelle’s kids will also be getting presents this year with support from a local church’s Sunday School class.
“I hope the community keeps supporting them,” she said. “Things like this help so much … I’m very grateful for it.”
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