Grab a hair net and a pair of gloves and take to the operation floor of the Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri, where some 300 volunteers participated in Kids Helping Kids Day, stocking buddy packs for low-income school children.
Those packages are delivered to 32 counties the food bank serves to supplement nutrition for needy students. Saturday, that meant sandwich bags full of fun-size Milky Way chocolate bars.
It wasn’t quite ideal, said food bank volunteer program supervisor Melanie Lake, “but it’s digestible.” Plus, find a kid who doesn’t like chocolate. The candy packs will be added to the buddy packs with more nutritious fare.
The organization manages more than 30 million pounds of food annually, Lake said. Donations of any kind are gratefully accepted.
Gifts and volunteer hours often peak during the holiday season, Lake said, because parents stress community service to children during times of thanksgiving and religious celebration.
Though young volunteers were off-limits for a reporter’s questions, Saturday’s event was geared toward youth involvement.
“But hunger is an issue 365 days a year,” Lake said.
The food bank provides 7,400 buddy packs weekly, including 1,700 in Boone County schools, said executive director Lindsay Lopez.
Food bank employees survey schools in all 32 counties of the agency’s service area while others solicit monetary and food donations to fill the packs themselves. Those are assembled on site at the food bank and shipped out to schools where teachers hand them off to students in need.
“This is a pretty sophisticated operation,” Lopez said.
It also requires a good deal of manpower.
In 2013, 45,000 community members lent at least one hour of service to the agency, which equates to 43 full-time employees, Lopez said.
“I think we’re so fortunate in this area to have so many people who are willing to give of their time and talent and treasure,” Lopez said. “What continues to surprise me is the great need.”
Lake said she didn’t notice the need until she joined the food bank’s staff years ago and started recognizing clients from church or the community swimming pool or her children’s school classes.
“Maybe the public recognizes the kind of food insecurity of people on street corners, but generally we don’t realize its effect on our neighbors,” she said.
One in five children lives in food-insecure households, according to national data collected by nonprofit group Feeding America. Lopez said those numbers hold true in Mid-Missouri.
“When you think about the average class size,” she said, “how many kids my children are interacting with are in that category?”