Food insecurity always has been a pressing issue, but the pandemic put a spotlight on it, said Lindsay Lopez, president and CEO of The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri.
“We were given a national platform,” Lopez said. “The silver lining is we can educate the public about the need.”
There was so much uncertainty at the start of the pandemic, she said.
“What we have seen is increases in people whose circumstances changed very quickly with the pandemic,” she said.
People sometimes had to choose between food and paying bills, she said.
The increased demand affected the food bank’s budget, she said.
“Our costs did go up significantly,” she said. “It almost tripled what we had budgeted for food.”
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The local food bank didn’t experience the miles-long lines of cars that were happening in large metropolitan areas, Lopez said. Numbers have fluctuated widely at Central Pantry, with some decreased demand as federal aid flowed to individuals.
“That aid being provided has helped people struggling to find a place of stability,” Lopez said.
On Saturday, the federal moratorium on evictions ended. Lopez said the food bank will be prepared for whatever happens.
“We keep ourselves informed about changes that are coming and are able to draw certain conclusions,” she said.
Just within the past month, the food bank has begun distributing food packs for the homeless at Central Pantry, one of the ways the charity adapts quickly to changing circumstances, Lopez said.
Volunteers returning to work
Volunteers were suspended for more than a year, with the Missouri National Guard stepping in for the mostly elderly volunteers who were at higher risk for catching COVID.
The more than 15,000 volunteers annually represented a cost saving of $2.7 million annually for the food bank, she said. The National Guard left at the end of June.
“We have phased our volunteer operations back,” Lopez said, noting there are safety precautions in place.
Retiree Bill Claypool, 70, was volunteering at the food bank on Friday, as he does most weekdays. He started volunteering in June 2019 after he retired.
“I retired in March 2019,” he said. “I kind of treat this as my job now. Most days, this is the most productive thing I do.”
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He was disappointed when volunteers were suspended, but as the pandemic approached, he could sense it was coming.
He returned to the food bank in April, fully vaccinated. He said he avoided illness during the pandemic.
“I’ve made great friends here,” Claypool said. “We’re accomplishing some good, too.”
The number of volunteers declines during the summer months when school’s not in session, Lopez said. The food bank recently put out a call for more volunteers.
“We are thrilled that so many in the community have wanted to respond,” Lopez said.
More:Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri in need of volunteers for the summer
Looking forward to a move
Central Pantry has plans to move to a larger location by 2023 in the current Moser’s on the Business Loop. It will have a lot more space for storage of non-perishable items and healthier fresh foods, said food bank spokesman Seth Wolfmeyer. It also will include a demonstration kitchen where people can try healthy recipes.
The food bank has been able to sustain the spotlight on food insecurity by continuing to educate and communicate with donors and potential donors, she said. Several groups have also embarked in online fundraisers for the food bank.
It also works with other agencies, Lopez said.
“We work closely and collaboratively with many agencies,” she said. “We are so fortunate in this community to have resources available to people who need them.”
1,000 evictions possible with the end of the federal eviction moratorium
Darren Morton, managing director of homeless day shelter Turning Point at Wilkes Boulevard United Methodist Church, spoke in his office on Thursday. A few hours before, it was filled with people seeking services during a Project Homeless Connect event. It brought agencies together to provide services to people who are homeless in one location.
Federal aid has helped several people emerge from homelessness, he said.
“Some people made good choices with the stipends that were handed out,” Morton said.
He said he didn’t want to predict how the end of the federal eviction moratorium would affect homelessness.
The end of the moratorium could be a disaster for many, said Darin Preis, president of Central Missouri Community Action.
“I think it’s going to be bad,” Preis said. “In my analysis, we could be looking at 1,000 evictions in Boone County.”
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He based that on rental data, the number of low-income renters and how much of their income they spend on housing, he said.
The Voluntary Action Center can provide rental assistance as can CMCA, he said.
There’s also assistance for renters from the Missouri Housing Development Commission.
“We’ve been referring people to that,” Preis said.
That assistance also is available to landlords who are struggling, he said
“When people get evicted, they may move in temporarily with family or friends,” Preis said “It creates a lot of chaos and a lot of crisis in someone’s life. I think probably the underlying theme is the stress caused by inconsistency.”
His agency is encouraging people to get vaccinated and apply for job openings that are available, he said.