The pandemic changed our normal, but Joplin residents can still find a meal

The pandemic changed our normal, but Joplin residents can still find a meal

April 14, 2022 in Harvest Time Newsletter

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the economic landscape of the Joplin area. As many communities have experienced, the retail and hospitality industries have been heavily impacted. In a city that thrives on businesses like these, local hunger-relief partner St. Peter’s Outreach House has had to adapt.

“Many businesses shut down and never came back,” explains Terri Giarratano, Director of Outreach Ministries at St. Peter’s Outreach House, “Our clients that lost those jobs are searching, but are having a hard time finding a place to work.”

St. Peter’s Outreach House never closed due to the pandemic. Located in an area of Joplin that already has higher rates of poverty and homelessness, Terri knew they had to continue serving meals to the neighbors that rely on them, but safety was a priority. The solution? Transition from seated to grab-and-go meals.

The grab-and-go meal operation resulted in a dramatic increase in people served. Before the pandemic, St. Peter’s Outreach House rarely served up to 100 meals per day. Now, they regularly serve more than 300.

Terri says their partnership with Ozarks Food Harvest has been crucial to their success. “With food from Ozarks Food Harvest, we save a lot of money,” she says, “That’s especially important now with higher numbers of people served and the cost of containers for to-go meals.” The Outreach House’s meals always consist of a meat, grain, and fruit or vegetable. Thanks to Ozarks Food Harvest’s Retail Pickup Program, they can add fresh produce from the local ALDI grocery store to make well-rounded, healthy meals.

When it comes to hunger, every story is different. Many people served at St. Peter’s Outreach House are experiencing homelessness. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Terri says the population of these individuals in the area has grown two to three times higher, and many stop by to receive a filling meal to get them through the day.

From seniors on fixed incomes, to families hoping to stretch limited budgets, everyone looking for a meal at St. Peter’s Outreach House is treated with dignity and compassion. They’re thought of as neighbors rather than clients, and some even become like family.

Terri thinks of one man, a veteran named Charlie, who lives in a home without running water or electricity. Charlie had been attending the seated lunches every day for years, staying the whole time for socialization, though rarely speaking to anyone. When offered help, he is careful to accept only what he can use, and continues to give back to others as well. He has now become one of the most reliable volunteers, helping with the meal service each day before receiving his own lunch.

Our hunger-relief partners know the importance of serving their neighbors, especially through hard times like the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has changed what normal looks like, but St. Peter’s Outreach House continues to see the impact a single meal can make.

“What got us started is that we wanted to feed our neighbors one meal at a time. They know we care, and we know their names. I think we make a difference,” says Terri.

Ozarks Food Harvest is committed to helping hunger-relief partners like St. Peter’s Outreach House to make that difference. Compassion and hard work from our partners provides warm meals and hope for thousands of people across southwest Missouri. Thank you to our donors for your generosity as we continue to support communities in the Ozarks.