With Thanksgiving approaching, food and generosity are on people’s minds. That can be both a blessing and a challenge for St. Louis area food pantries.
Between the numerous food drives and the holiday spirit, the regions’ two main charitable food distribution centers receive a lot of donations in November and December.
The St. Louis Area Foodbank, which provides food to 500 pantries, shelters and soup kitchens in Missouri and Illinois, receives half of its annual income between October and January.
And Operation Food Search, which partners with 330 agencies in the metro area, takes in 30 to 40 percent of their yearly donations during that same time span.
But because sitting around the dinner table tends to be the highlight of celebrations, the need for food aid also increases at this time of year, according to Verletta Cole, vice president of development at the St. Louis Area Foodbank.
“When you think about the holidays you think about food. Typically we gather around the tables with our family and friends, particularly with Thanksgiving,” Cole said. “For most of us it’s being grateful for what we have. But during the holidays, for those that don’t have, it is a reminder of that.”
Many of the 900 food drives held for Operation Food Search each year are in November and December. The agency’s director of strategic initiatives, Lucinda Perry, said Operation Food Search works quickly to pass that food on to their partner organizations.
“We want to make sure that we get that out there as quickly as possible, so it really doesn’t last that long. We’ll go through that by January or February, easily,” Perry said.
The St. Louis Area Foodbank, meanwhile, distributes slightly more food during November and December, but holds onto the bulk of their donations to make them last the rest of the year.
“While we realize the bulk of our donations are going to be received in November and December, and we know that we are distributing more food during those months we also know for the next nine months that people still need to eat,” Cole said.
Both food banks balance their holiday-heavy donations from corporations and individuals with a steady stream of food from grocery stores and manufacturers.
Cole and Perry said the need for food aid remains as high as it was during the recession.
“There was a rise of people (during the recession) that had begun making really difficult choices around food or medicine because of job loss or other family situations, and that need has just continued to rise,” said Perry. “There have been some people who have been able to recover economically and others who aren’t.”
“Most of the individuals that we are serving are working. Unfortunately they have to work two jobs and it’s still not enough to make ends meet. Or because of no fault of their own — health disparities — they have to choose between buying medicine or buying food,” Cole said, adding that her agency continues to deliver more food each year than it did the year before.
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