(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Almost a year after she became the Bootheel Food Bank's executive director, Karen Green can see where advances have been made. But she's not ready to stop yet, and Green has several other goals she'd like to accomplish.
"The food bank in the past year as become more accountable for the communities it serves," said Green. "We're worthy of support like never before."
One of the biggest highlights for Green is that the number of agencies increased by about 10 from the 125 already served.
"If we do our job right, we'll get more people fed than are currently being fed," said Jim Mills, food distribution manager, who oversees the warehouse.
The number of agencies has grown in part to better marketing by the food bank and making people more aware of it. "When I first started, it became very obvious to me that the food bank was almost invisible," said Green.
Money is a big piece of the puzzle, too. Over the past year, about $34,000 in grant money was procured, said Green. Grant applications are difficult, especially for someone without the experience. "We'd love for someone with grant writing skills to be on board as a volunteer and eventually have someone on staff," she said.
Most of the grant money is $30,000 in emergency funds from the Missouri Foundation for Health.
"I was thrilled to get that," said Green. Although she has applied for other grants, this is one that she didn't have to go through that process. That's because the local food bank, in addition to some others, partnered with the University of Missouri School of Medicine to better define the link between food and health, and it was recommended as a result of that partnership.
Green said those funds will mostly be used for transportation costs. "That is our primary expense," she said. Food and other donations are another problem, Green said, but she is working to increase those as well.
"We already have established donors, and I'm looking for more possible retailers," she said, adding there is a lot of potential in the counties served. "It's just finding the staffing and the time to contact all of them."
Some new contacts were made, generating more donations, and Green and Mills plan to increase that number.
"I believe we're offering more food sources, more nutrition and expanding our network," said Green.
Mills, who came on board in March, said the food bank was shipping about 200,000 pounds of food a month. But since then, the total has doubled and tripled in some months, to 400,000 to 600,000 pounds.
"There's more people getting what they are wanting and needing," he said. "We're also getting more distribution points."
Although church members and juvenile offenders who are fulfilling service requirements often help out, volunteers are always welcomed and encouraged.
"A lot of the service clubs don't know who we are," said Green. "We should be out there in the community getting involved with civic clubs, schools, churches and other groups."
She noted that the Neighbors Helping Neighbors campaign, which provided food baskets to needy families over Christmas, involved the partnership of several groups. Green would like to do more campaigns such as this, and is currently devising a strategic plan for the year.
This year, she also plans to start a pilot child feeding program. One she is leaning toward is through the America's Second Harvest network, to which the food bank belongs. It involves sending a backpack of food home from school with eligible children every Friday.
Green noted the need in the area -- for instance, in the Sikeston R-6 district, 60 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunches. "Those kids are probably hungry at home," she said.
Other goals include allowing for facility improvements, acquiring additional vehicles for delivery use, and recruiting more volunteers to help with packaging food and assisting in the office.
And for those who want to help, Green said there is no one better to help than their neighbors.
"You're helping people in your city, county, southeast Missouri," she said. "You can't get much more local than that."
Anyone who is interested in volunteering can call the main office, 471-1818.