Meal distribution will begin at 11 a.m. April 24, at Epworth’s Normandy campus at 7520 Natural Bridge Road. The two organizations plan to provide 1,000 pre-packaged, healthy lunches a week.
Over the past decades, both Epworth and the county’s NAACP chapter have been providing food for families in need, but as unemployment rises in the region, people in lower-income areas should not have to choose between buying food and paying bills, Epworth President and CEO Michael Panicola said.
“We've seen historic numbers of people filing unemployment claims in the last months. And so these communities tend to be harder hit when crises occur, and the need is out there,” Panicola said.
According to COVID-19 racial breakdown data from St. Louis and St. Louis County, north city and north county have some of the region’s highest numbers of coronavirus cases. These areas also present stark inequities, such as high unemployment rates, underfunded schools, inadequate health care facilities and a disportionate lack of healthy food options.
County NAACP President John Bowman said African Americans are often blamed for their poor health outcomes, but their conditions are directly related to economic uncertainties and living in food deserts.
“Generally [African Americans] are not the powerbrokers making decisions,” Bowman said. “I don't think you can even warrant a conversation stating that it’s African Americans’ fault.”
“There is really no reason why there shouldn’t be more nutritional grocery stores in the community. Get healthy foods available to everyone,” he said.
In the coming weeks, both the county NAACP and Epworth will provide sandwiches, snacks, drinks and other food items to distribution sites in north county, north city and south city.
With donations from local food banks, the Epworth’s outreach team will also provide resources and essential goods to the region’s unhoused. In addition to Epworth’s contributions and the weekly meal efforts, the NAACP county chapter will also give nonperishable goods to three local food pantries a week. This week’s pantry locations are the Shalom Church (City of Peace), Blessed Church and Circle of Light Church.
“Right now, we're just trying to respond to the most immediate needs that people have, and food and shelter are on top of that list,” Panicola said.
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