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GEORGE KENNEDY: Food Bank helps feed Missourians young and old

Friday, February 15, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, to use the formal name, had a big year in 2012. So far, 2013 is looking even busier. That’s a classic good news/bad news story.

(I’m going to be using the first person plural in this essay, because I’m both a veteran volunteer at the Food Bank and a rookie member of its board.)

Last year, we gave away 27,401,323 pounds of food. That’s the equivalent of a little more than 21 million meals. The wholesale value of that food was $45,486,191. Those numbers come from our annual “report card,” which came out this week.

When I say we gave the food away, that’s just what I mean. Ours is one of just a handful of food banks across the country that don’t charge the agencies we supply – not even for the delivery costs.

It’s big business, this feeding the hungry. In 2012, the Food Bank had $50,666,805 in revenue, 91 percent of that in donations of food and in-kind gifts. We spent $49,487,587. Most of the cash (60 percent) and a lot of the food came from you. Only a quarter of the cash came from government at any level; 5 percent came from the United Way.

The Food Bank is really a wholesale operation that supplies retailers such as food pantries, soup kitchens, senior centers, children’s programs and schools throughout a 32-county area that stretches from the Lake of the Ozarks and Sedalia to the corner where Missouri meets Iowa and Illinois.

We fed last year 105,000 people a month. To me, at least, the most important of those clients are the 6,700 children at 127 schools who take home every Friday a Buddy Pack that supplements their meals for the weekend. What’s sad is both that there are so many kids who can’t be sure of their next meal and that there are a lot more of them than we can reach now. (For $180, you can sponsor a Buddy Pack for the school year.)

It’s a remarkably cost-efficient operation. Only 1.9 percent of the budget goes for administrative and fundraising overhead. That means that 98 cents of every dollar is spent on acquiring and distributing the food.

You’d expect that an organization this effective would have a strong leader. In this case you’d be right. Our leader is Peggy Kirkpatrick, a big-hearted, hard-headed visionary.

After 20 years, she brings to work every day a passion that seems to inspire not only the 50 or so professionals but the 38,000 volunteers who showed up at the Vandiver Drive warehouse last year.

Peggy’s vision currently is that we should somehow move beyond just feeding hungry people, important as that is, to the much more challenging role of helping break the chain of generational poverty. That’s the task taken on recently by the United Way.

Just how we might go about that is at the top of the board’s agenda for this year. Teaching nutrition? Involving youngsters, especially, in growing their own food? Other possibilities? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Marion, Ken, Rebekah, Lucy and I, with a handful of other regulars, joined a couple of dozen kids from a Christian school Thursday morning in packaging cereal for Buddy Packs. Next week, we’ll be filling about 2,000 boxes that will be distributed as supplementary food through senior centers.

There just shouldn’t be so much hunger in our little corner of the richest nation ever. As long as there is, though, the Food Bank will keep on, as its slogan promises, “Sharing food. Bringing hope.”

You’re welcome to help.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.


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