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Food bank battles poverty and unemployment

Sunday, April 17, 2011 | 11:04 a.m. CDT; updated 9:02 p.m. CDT, Monday, April 18, 2011

COLUMBIA — Poverty and unemployment rates have increased in a number of Missouri cities and counties, and the regional food bank is trying to keep up.

According to the American Community Survey, here are the 2006 to 2009 poverty and unemployment levels for nearby cities and counties:

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  • Columbia's poverty level was at 20.7 percent in 2006, jumped to 23 percent in 2008 and decreased to 20.6 percent in 2009. Unemployment, however, decreased from 7.5 percent in 2006 to 5.4 percent in 2009.
  • Boone County's poverty level jumped from 14.9 percent in 2006 to 19.1 percent in 2009. Unemployment increased from 5.7 percent in 2006 to 6.4 percent in 2009.
  • Cole County's poverty level was at 14.8 percent in 2006 but decreased to 10.9 percent in 2009. Unemployment, however, jumped significantly from 1.9 percent in 2006 to 8.2 percent in 2009.
  • Clay County's poverty level slightly increased from 7.4 percent in 2006 to 7.8 percent in 2009. Unemployment increased from 3.7 percent in 2006 to 5.3 percent in 2009.
  • Independence's poverty level increased from 13 percent in 2006 to 14.2 percent in 2009. Unemployment also jumped significantly from 6.2 percent in 2006 to 13 percent in 2009.

With the overall poverty levels in Missouri also increasing, from 13.6 percent in 2006 to 14.6 percent in 2009, the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri has been trying to stay above those numbers.

"The food bank has experienced exponential growth for years now," said Peggy Kirkpatrick, executive director of the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri.

The food bank acts as a distributor to food pantries in 32 counties across the central and northeastern regions of Missouri. It also operates its own food pantry known as Central Pantry in Boone County.

"The food bank, along with the Central Pantry, distributes food to soup kitchens, emergency food pantries, programs for low-income children and senior citizens, as well as other programs," Kirkpatrick said.

In 2001, the food bank distributed 13.1 million pounds of food to all 32 counties. In 2010, that number grew to more than 27.3 million pounds of food — that's $43.8 million worth, Kirkpatrick said.

By 2009, the food bank had to move from a 6,000-square-foot building to a 14,000-square-foot one to accommodate its ability to feed 97,000 people per month, she said.

In Boone County alone, the food bank distributed 2.9 million pounds of food. That number grew to more than six million at the end of 2010, she said.

Roger Mitchell, dean emeritus of the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, has been volunteering at the food bank since 1999.

"It is dramatic how much more food we handle now compared to 10 years ago," Mitchell said.

When he first began volunteering, Mitchell spent two to three hours twice a week preparing packages ranging from small family-sized bags to 1,500-pound crates. One of the more difficult tasks for the food bank today is paying for transportation and repackaging materials, he said.

Hunger and the need for food is just as important an issue in rural counties as it is in urban counties, Mitchell said.

"It is sobering, yet inspiring, the amount of food we are able to give out," he said.

Employment by industry

Together with health care and education, the finance and insurance industry accounts for 48.7 percent of city jobs and 46.4 percent of county jobs, according to the Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis. Part of this growth can be attributed to State Farm Insurance sending employees to work in Columbia after Hurricane Katrina hit one of its regional headquarters in Monroe, La., according to a News-Star article.

"Columbia has always been supported by the health, education and insurance industries," said Bernie Andrews, executive vice president of Regional Economic Development Incorporated.

Mitchell, who was the dean of agriculture from 1983 to 1998, has seen a steady growth in jobs at MU during his tenure. He said he thinks this is a combination of a steady growth in student enrollment and the university's ability to attract research funding from both federal grants and private companies.

One industry that has experienced a downward trend in the past decade is the manufacturing industry.

3M, once a large manufacturer in Columbia employing more than 1,000 city and county residents, now has 250 workers on its payroll, Andrews said. Other automotive parts manufacturers such as Summit Polymers and Collins & Aikman have either downsized or completely moved out of town, he said.

According to Andrews, Columbia, a town always looking to attract more jobs and businesses, is going to fight this trend. He pointed out that the Missouri Department of Economic Development recently acquired the Sutter industrial site, a 110-acre parcel of land that will draw more manufacturing jobs to Columbia.


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