Food bank leaders optimistic about overcoming summer challenges

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COLUMBIA – The Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri serves 32 counties per year, but seasonal challenges may make some daily operations slightly more difficult.

Lindsay Young Lopez, executive director for the food bank, said the organization generally experiences a decline in volunteers around June.

Volunteers helped out with 4,737 shifts in April as opposed to 2,582 in June last year. The food bank brought in volunteers for 4,138 shifts this April, a number which could come down by nearly half in June, according to communications coordinator Janese Silvey. 

Young Lopez said some tasks, like handling fresh produce and providing meals for children in food insecure families out of school, need more attention when volunteers leave over summer.

“It takes a lot of resources, and a lot of logistics to be able to push out those perishable food items very quickly,” Young Lopez said.

The food bank introduced its first ever Kids Helping Kids program in early June. It allows families to volunteer for two hours on weekdays with some age-specific tasks for children as young as age four. 

Christina Dablemont, human resources coordinator for the food bank, said the program achieves a dual-purpose.

“We’re really hoping that this opportunity will not just give us help and not just give them something to do, but also give us an opportunity to educate the kids and make this a familiar place for them,” Dablemont said.

Dablemont said programs like Kids Helping Kids could help raise awareness of the food bank’s mission to help families fight hunger year-round.

“We love our volunteers all year long, but I would like to think in the future we’ll be able to continue to raise awareness throughout the summer so that August looks a lot heavier in volunteers than June,” Dablemont said.

Young Lopez said the need for cash and food donations is constant, regardless how much the food bank receives on a month-to-month basis.

“Whether we have the monetary resources, the volunteer resources, the need still remains consistent,” Young Lopez said. “The need is always consistent, and it’s really important that we continue to meet that need.”

In the 25th annual Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive last month, the food bank received nearly 40,000 fewer pounds in food donations compared to 2016, but beat last year’s monetary donations by more than $8,000.

Young Lopez said the cash contributions allow the food bank to invest in more nutritious and perishable foods that may not be as common through physical donations.

“When we have dollars that we can expend, we can purchase the good foods and the foods to encourage health like produce, protein and dairy,” Young Lopez said. “Those are items that are very difficult to acquire, but every time somebody contributes a dollar, we can certainly turn that around and purchase items that provide the best nourishment." 

Young Lopez and Dablemont said, for every dollar acquired, the food bank has the purchasing power of $21. This often includes bulk purchases, thus creating a need to organize large quantities of food. 

“We take that bulk and break it down into smaller foods, and that happens with the help of our volunteers,” Dablemont said. “When we don’t have volunteers, we’re not doing that, so it slows down the general operation of taking food in and giving it back.”