Fresh food donations help local shelters meet winter needs

Sunday, January 19, 2014 | 6:46 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA —  For homeless or low-income people searching for food, the coldest months of the year can leave significant gaps in basic needs. Local shelters and food banks also find it difficult to find a source of fresh produce during this time and have to look for ways to feed the hungry.

To address this need, the Fresh Food Drive, organized by Missouri River Communities Network and AmeriCorps VISTA, collected organic and fresh-farmed foods Saturday and Sunday to ease shortages of milk, eggs and fresh produce.

The second annual drive accepted fresh foods and cash donations, which they used to purchase more food from local vendors. The food was then donated to the Salvation Army Harbor House, Lois Bryant Catholic Worker House and the St. Francis Catholic Worker House.

"The community feedback has just been phenomenal," said Miranda Challeen, organizer of the drive and member of AmeriCorps. "It's all about getting the lower-income folks in touch with where the food is coming from and getting them in touch with something healthy that they might not otherwise get."

The drive, held over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend at Clover's Natural Market and the Columbia Farmers' Market in Parkade Plaza, brought in more than 400 pounds of food, worth $700, by Sunday morning, Challeen said.

By the end of the drive Sunday evening, Challeen expects donations to exceed the 500 pounds of food they collected last year.

"This year we've had a lot of interest, and musicians that performed at the event were a tremendous help — that has really exceeded our expectation," Challeen said.

The shelters often face shortages of fresh foods in the winter, said Steve Jacobs, a member of the Catholic Worker Community, which serves between 25 to 30 people daily at the St. Francis House and Lois Bryant House.

"Canned foods sometimes tend to lose some of their nutritional value," Jacobs said. "It's really good when we can provide fresh foods — we want to ensure the men and women we serve have access to necessary nutrition."

The two-day food drive gathered donations in bins and took them to local shelters, which organized meals immediately following the deliveries.

"A lot of the time shelters don't get this type of food," Challeen said. "We're delivering the bulk of the foods after each day, so none of this is in danger of spoiling."

One of the other goals of the Fresh Food Drive was bringing awareness to local farmers who don't have as many customers in the winter, said Jesse Burgher, a volunteer for the drive.

"Doing a drive in the winter is another way to remind ourselves that the farmers, they don't go away — they don't just sit back and take the winter off," Challeen said.

The winter fresh food drive, seemingly paradoxical, is one of few drives that addresses the need for fresh food in the winter, Challeen said.

Many items that grow better in the winter, like potatoes and squash, help shelters add inventory that lasts up to a month, Burgher said.

"It tends to be a late-season item, so we see a lot of it," Challeen said. "But it's also something that can make hearty dishes and meals."

Squash and potatoes were popular donations, but soup bones, stew meat, breads, kale, tomatoes and desserts were also donated, said Zoe Broder, an AmeriCorps VISTA member.

"In the summer you might get a lot of stuff that will go bad quicker," Burgher said. "This drive happening in the winter is a lot more effective than people would think."

Supervising editor is Elise Schmelzer.

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