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St. Louis nonprofit will use $250,000 grant to feed more people

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Feed My People
Volunteers sort donations of household items at Feed My People. The nonprofit operates food pantries and thrift stores in the St. Louis region.

Feed My People, a nonprofit that runs food pantries in St. Louis County and Jefferson County, will expand its services with help from a $250,000 grant.

The Economic Development Corporation of Jefferson County awarded the grant with money from the 2020 CARES Act.

Feed My People previously received $40,000 from the same source. Its leaders hoped for an additional grant but the size of this one took them by surprise.

“We thought maybe we’d get another $10,000, but a quarter-million — holy moly,” said Rev. Christopher Boyer, the executive director of Feed My People.

The organization has a $4.5 million annual budget, with 14 full-time employees and support from 400 volunteers.

It will spend some of the money on renovations to its facility in High Ridge, which houses a food pantry and thrift store. By removing a wall, the organization will be able to free up more space and let clients pick and choose the food they take home.

Currently recipients receive pre-packed bags based on how large their families are. This leads to many people receiving some food items they don’t like or don’t know how to prepare. Some of that food turns into waste.

“What we find is that when the person gets something they don’t really want, either we’ll find it outside or they'll re-donate it,’ Director of Operations Stephanie Berberich said. “So, that doesn’t really serve the purpose. We want them to eat it. We want them to be healthy.”

Feed My People began offering a choice of food items to clients at its Lemay location two months ago after similar renovations. The organization feeds 1,600 people a week at the two food pantries. Clients receive three day’s worth of food, and can return every two weeks.

More face-to-face interaction with food recipients gives pantry volunteers more opportunities to forge personal connections, learn about clients’ needs and potentially refer them to other programs. Feed My People offers additional services such as emergency help with heating bills, and has counselors who talk with clients about their needs and connect them with other agencies.

“When you’re in trouble, when you’re in crisis, you feel all alone. It really helps when you go someplace to get some emergency help and you're treated kindly, and you're treated with dignity, and you're treated like you're a functioning human being – not just some bothersome statistic,” Boyer said.

The nonprofit’s leaders expect to use much of the grant money to buy a new, larger building that can serve more people. They are just beginning to examine options, after the surprise of the large award.

“We are looking at the pockets of need in other areas of the St. Louis metro area and saying: OK, who needs us? Where does it make sense for us to go? We’ve proven that our model works. Now we’re looking at a wider expansion,” Boyer said.

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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