Grant to provide mid-Missouri food pantries with community gardens, nutrition education

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 | 6:22 p.m. CST; updated 8:45 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 22, 2013

COLUMBIA — Eight food pantries in central and northeast Missouri will see an increase in the availability of healthy foods and nutrition education, thanks to a $500,000 grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health.

The 5-year grant is going to two MU centers: the Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the Health Communication Research Center in the School of Journalism.

The grant will be used to develop ideas and activities with the food pantries that can be replicated by other pantries around the state, said Bill McKelvey, project coordinator of the Food Pantry Nutrition Project in the Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security. The new grant will build on the 2011 pantry nutrition project.

In 2011, Missouri was ranked ninth in the nation for food insecurity, or the lack of money or resources to obtain appropriate foods for a nutritious diet, according to a 2011 household food security report from the United States Department of Agriculture. On average, 16 percent of state households were reported to have low or very low food insecurity from 2009 to 2011.

"On a day-to-day basis, Missouri food pantries are seeing more and more people coming in," McKelvey said. "This grant is focused on trying to get healthier food to those people, especially fruits and veggies."

The MU centers will partner first with the St. James Caring Center in St. James and the Shelby County Food Pantry in Shelbina, McKelvey said. Later this year, three more pantries will be selected; the final three will be chosen next year.

"At St. James, we’re hoping to expand the community garden and provide plots for community members who use the pantry," McKelvey said. "We’re looking for ways to integrate more families and youth to produce their own healthier food."

Goals of the grant include distributing gardening education and seeds to food pantry clients and helping pantries establish a presence in their communities, McKelvey said. The Health Communication Research Center also will help pantries, such as the Shelby County Food Pantry, to create websites to better share information with clients.

"We’ve found that many folks going to pantries already have gardens or are interested in having one but don’t have the resources or knowledge," McKelvey said. "This project focuses on self-sufficiency for food pantry clients. The idea of folks learning how to grow their own fresh food is really exciting."

Every month, the Shelby County pantry serves about 300 families and 900 individuals, said Charles Grubb, president of the Shelby County Food Pantry board. The grant will help the pantry to start the county’s first community garden.

"Our people are going to benefit greatly from the website and garden," Grubb said. "Growing their own fresh food will make their dollar go a lot further."

Once the Shelbina community garden is up and running, Grubb said, he wants to establish gardens in Shelbyville and Clarence, the next two largest communities in Shelby County.

Over the next five years, McKelvey said, he hopes the two centers will be able to tailor the grant to better meet the needs of Missouri food pantries and their clients.

"What we’re doing now will provide ideas and inspiration to pantries all over the state," McKelvey said. "We will keep evaluating our projects over time to make sure we are making the biggest impact possible."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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