Monday, September 23, 2013

Relying on SNAP is difficult by CEO Bart Brown

Last week I learned firsthand how difficult it is to buy the right kinds of foods for a healthy diet on $4.50 per day. 

As I said early last week, I have borderline high cholesterol and blood sugar. The diet prescribed by my doctor is one that’s rich in lean sources of protein, low-fat dairy, fresh fruits and vegetables, and limited simple carbohydrates. I've done pretty well, but I should after all—we train on this kind of thing here at The Food Bank, so I have an inside information track that gives me an unfair advantage. 

That said, I've blown my daily goals for carbohydrates and fat almost every day this week to stay within my food budget. End result? I gained two pounds eating within my budget, despite my knowledge of nutrition and food costs.

To me this really brings home why there is an increased incidence of obesity among low-income families. All the knowledge in the world won’t help you if you don’t have the resources to put it into action, and that’s the situation that many American families find themselves in now. 

One thing my Mom used to say is, “When you serve, you don’t get to judge.” 

I try to live my life by these words, with varying degree of success depending on the day. I think if more people participated in this Challenge, there might be a little less judging about SNAP recipients and those who live with these challenges every day.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Layers of challenge during the SNAP Challenge by CEO Bart Brown

On day three of my SNAP Challenge, I had my weekly Rotary meeting. It’s a breakfast meeting. The good news is I can fill up on a big breakfast. The bad news is the cost of the meal is $10.00.

This will have to come out of my cash food budget for food I need above and beyond SNAP. Assuming for the purpose of the Challenge that I’m income-qualified for SNAP, that $10.00 was a third of my cash budget for the week. It meant pasta with no meat was for dinner—a bit healthier with less sodium than my college standby of Ramen noodles! 

One thing is clear with this exercise—every single dollar counts. I was able to purchase a pork loin roast on day four by comparing prices in the weekly grocery ads. Since I’m running low on cash this week due to my $10.00 breakfast, I took the time to calculate the mileage cost to determine if driving to a store further away costs me more than the amount of discount on the roast. But I’m lucky to have a 2011 model car that gets good gas mileage. A typical SNAP recipient at the income-level that qualifies them wouldn't be able to afford my car.

On day five, I discovered that I can get a large take-and-bake cheese pizza for just over five bucks. The nutritional profile is actually not too bad…for one piece, which is a “serving.” There are eight pieces of pizza, so theoretically I can get eight meals out of my $5.00 purchase, if I could limit myself to one piece at a time. In reality, this turned into four meals for me, still not bad at all for the price. 

I have to wonder how many folks would judge me if they knew I was using SNAP benefits to buy pizza, even though it’s a good value that’s reasonably nutritious. The further into this Challenge I get, the more layers of challenges I find. For instance, on Sunday I was able to can 13 quarts of tomatoes from my garden. Growing your own food is promoted as the ultimate in self-sufficiency.  But again, I’m lucky enough to have the land, the tools and equipment to cultivate, grow and preserve my tomatoes. 

For most folks in my income category (again I’m assuming I make a wage that qualifies me for SNAP) those things are beyond reach. The Challenge ends after Saturday. I'll post some closing thoughts, so stay tuned. And be sure to read David Stoeffler's column in the Springfield News-Leader this Sunday. He's been participating in the Challenge all week, sharing his experience online. You can follow him on Twitter at @DStoefflerNL.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Can you eat on $4.50 a day? Taking the #SNAPChallenge by CEO Bart Brown

Bart Brown is the CEO at Ozarks Food Harvest and also the president of the Missouri Food Bank Association. He’s taking the “SNAP Challenge” with other hunger relief advocates across the country for one week during Hunger Action Month, Sept. 15–21. His food budget for the entire week is based on the average SNAP benefit, which is $4.50 per person per day, for all food and beverages.

The SNAP Challenge encourages participants to get a sense of what life is like for millions of low-income Americans facing hunger, including thousands of families and seniors right here in southwest Missouri. For those of you who don’t know, SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and was formerly called “food stamps.” While SNAP provides monthly benefits to supplement the food budgets of families in need, in many cases the benefits are inadequate and families still struggle to put food on the table.

Here are a few of my notes from my experience so far:

  • I’m having to adjust my usual low-fat/low-carb weekday diet for my budget. My breakfast this morning was two eggs and private label processed cheese. Tasty, but 20 grams of fat to start the day…not so great! Lean protein and fresh fruit are the hardest things to find on my budget.
  • Got my lab report from my annual physical. I have borderline high cholesterol and blood sugar. My instructions say to eat lean protein, limit sugar and other simple carbohydrates, and eat more whole grains and fiber. My budget says otherwise.
  • I had a BLT for dinner. The bread I normally use costs $4.00 per loaf—almost my whole day’s allowance! Compromised with a cheaper product, but it’s full of simple carbs and not much fiber. I also usually use turkey bacon to limit fat, but that’s outside my budget as well, so it’s full fat bacon for me!

While the goal is to gain some understanding of the struggles vulnerable families face each day, it is impossible to fully comprehend the difficult decisions low-income families face daily. The Challenge ultimately helps raise awareness about the complex issue of hunger in communities across the nation.

It’s not too late to take the Challenge. Here’s what you need to do:
  1. Choose the duration of your SNAP Challenge. You can choose the last week in September to participate during Hunger Action Month, or you can do it any other week of the year. Those of us in the Feeding America network are aligning our voices, Sept. 15–21.
  2. Budget for your weekly groceries. You’re allowed $4.50 per person per day—for all food and beverages. That’s the average SNAP benefit. You CAN use coupons, but you cannot shop at membership clubs.
  3. You shouldn't eat food you purchased prior to starting the Challenge and you must avoid accepting free food from friends, family or while at work.
  4. Keep track of your receipts on food spending and take note of your experiences throughout the week, in particular the choices you made between the variety and quality of food you ate.
  5. Finally, invite others to join you & ask them to share their experience through blogging or on their social media accounts. You can find more SNAP facts here

Thursday, May 30, 2013

OFH expands support to Springfield schools

A young boy and his grandfather recently benefited from one of Ozarks Food Harvest’s first Mobile Food Pantry visits at an elementary school in Springfield. As the two walked through the distribution line, volunteers stocked their bags and laundry baskets with groceries to take home.

The five-year-old (pictured below) is the youngest of three children that their grandpa, Larry, looks after. The siblings, in first and second grade at Weller, were among some of the first to receive food from this OFH program that now visits schools. It’s part of The Food Bank’s commitment to provide even more support to food insecure SPS students and their families.

With more than half of Springfield students eligible for free or reduced school meals, Ozarks Food Harvest is helping meet the increasing need with new concepts, including providing OFH Mobile Food Pantry distributions at schools and providing SNAP assistance for student families.

An OFH Mobile Food Pantry truck makes the second SPS delivery at Weller Elementary.
Ozarks Food Harvest’s financial commitment to serve SPS will be $450,000 during The Food Bank’s next fiscal year. The partnership includes:

·        Supplying at least 18 SPS schools with bags of nutritious, child-friendly food via The Food Bank’s Weekend Backpack Program. Bingham, Delaware, Holland, Sunshine and Truman were added in 2012, and an increased number of bags were provided to Campbell, Weaver, Weller, Westport and Williams beginning in 2012. The bags go to at-risk students to take home over the weekends, when they might otherwise go hungry. See all schools.
·        Providing SPS with a minimum of 10 Mobile Food Pantry distributions. Each drop will serve more than 200 student families, providing five tons of food or enough for more than 8,000 meals. The first Mobile Food Pantry distribution is scheduled at a school later this month.
·        Establishing School Food Pantries in partnership with SPS. “Market on the Hill” was established in 2012 at Hillcrest High School, and a second school is currently being researched.
·        Providing SNAP outreach assistance to help more families benefit from the federal safety-net, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called “food stamps.”

The first Mobile Food Pantry distribution for SPS took place in April at Williams Elementary in Springfield, where it served more than 350 individuals. The second drop was held at Weller Elementary in May, and the third distribution will take place at Watkins in June. 

Some of the donations handed out by Mobile Food Pantry volunteers include cereal, bread, deli meat, eggs, fresh produce, canned goods, dairy products and other snacks. The Food Bank is always looking for volunteers to help set-up, pass out food, load vehicles and clean up. To sign up or learn more, go to or contact Jennifer at (417) 865-3441. 

OFH already supports local children in need through a number of programs. The Weekend Backpack Program supplies children with healthy, easy-open food items when school's out for the weekend. The Food Bank implements its Summer Food Program to provide food to children who rely on free school lunch meals. And last year, Ozarks Food Harvest established a pantry within a high school to supply older students and their families with groceries.

To learn more about these OFH programs, go to You can read about the new Summer Sacks initiative here

Monday, March 4, 2013

Creative ways to help end hunger

(This is a guest post from Meredith Kimelblatt on behalf of ConAgra Foods, Inc.)

There’s no question about it: hunger is a major issue. In every country throughout the world, people struggle with problems like not having enough food to eat at home and in schools, not being able to feed growing families and not having the resources to get the help they need.

When hunger doesn’t directly affect you or someone close to you it can be easy to imagine the issue of hunger on a larger, worldwide scale; you know that it’s there and that it’s a problem, but you may think that nothing you can do will really put a dent in the problem. Hunger happens everywhere, however, and while worldwide hunger is obviously an enormous issue, hunger in America alone is a major issue in itself.

Looking just at child hunger in America narrows the issue even more drastically and puts it into a more alarming perspective. According to ConAgra Foods, more than 1 in 5 children in the United States live in households that don’t have consistent access to food throughout the year, a number that adds up to more than 16.7 million children across the country. Approximately 15.7 million US children lived below the poverty line in 2010, making it likely that their families struggle with providing them with adequate amounts of food, nutritious food or both.

With mind-bogglingly large numbers like that, it’s easier to imagine how efforts to end hunger could really truly make a difference, since its reach is so extreme. So how can you get involved in helping to make these numbers a little smaller? The following are simple, creative ways to help end child and adult hunger in your community:

  • Help out at your local food bank
Food banks like Ozarks Food Harvest always appreciate food donations; canned goods and other-nonperishable items like rice and pasta make excellent donations and will certainly be much-appreciated by anyone visiting a food pantry.

  • Organize a food drive
If you want to donate on a larger scale, try organizing a food drive at your school or office. Most people have canned foods lying around in their cupboards that they will be more than happy to donate and you can obtain large quantities of food at once. Turn the drive into a game or contest to get more donations!

  • Community gardens
Planting a community garden is an excellent way to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to families who can’t afford to buy their own. Since fresh produce can get pricey, many families struggling with hunger are forced to pass it over in favor of cheaper, possibly less nutritious options, so a community garden can help instill
nutritious eating habits, too.

  • Raise awareness of hunger organizations
If you hear about an organization or opportunity to get involved in an activity that can help end hunger, spread the word! Chances are, many people you know would love to get involved in the same cause. Raising awareness about just how significant the problem of hunger is can also help motivate people to get involved.

  • Clip coupons
For families struggling with their grocery budgets, clipping coupons is an easy way for people to save some money at the supermarket. It’s an easy task that won’t take up a lot of your time, but coupons can be a lifesaver for families working to make ends meet.

  • Lobby for change
If you notice that a school or other center in your community is not providing sufficient food to the people it serves, or lacks the funds to do so, take up the issue with the center or with your local politician. Problems can only be solved if people are aware of them, so be sure to raise awareness.

How else can you think to help end the issue of hunger? Share your ideas below!

This is a guest post by Meredith K. on behalf of ConAgra Foods, Inc. For more information on ending child hunger in America and the ConAgra Foods Foundation, visit 

Monday, February 25, 2013

OFH member pantry gives time at The Food Bank, processes record amount of food

A regular volunteer group at The Food Bank, who also happen to operate a food pantry affiliated with Ozarks Food Harvest, recently set a sorting record of 18,000 pounds of food during a single volunteer session! That’s enough to provide 15,000 meals to those in need in the Ozarks.
Prairie Chapel volunteers receive food in the sorting room
and process it for distribution to 250 nonprofit organizations. 
Lead volunteer, Jim Brown, helped establish the food pantry at his church, Prairie Chapel United Methodist, in Urbana, Mo. in 2002. He says there was a need to provide hunger relief for the now 140 families they serve monthly.
Brown, at left, inspects food donations in the OFH Volunteer Center
The 77-year-old retired farmer not only picks up 2,300 pounds of food from Ozarks Food Harvest monthly, he also coordinates church volunteers to serve time at The Food Bank, helping process donations for other food pantries in the region.

“I do it because they [Ozarks Food Harvest] help us,” Brown says. “They’re helping us by helping others.”
Brown dodged having his picture taken during the group’s last volunteer session. He asked that all of the volunteers be included in a picture together. “Don’t take a picture of just me,” he said, “I can’t do any of this without everyone.”

Prairie Chapel United Methodist Church volunteers take a break
while serving at the O'Reilly Center for Hunger Relief
Though Prairie Chapel United Methodist Church volunteers are humble about their new sorting record at OFH, they’ve already set a goal to process even more during their next visit to OFH—20,000 pounds!

Become a volunteer at, and see a listing of local pantries and organizations your efforts will help support at

Friday, January 4, 2013

Cherokee Middle School takes food drive one step further

Cherokee Middle School students have hosted food and fund drives for families in need for the past several years. And recently, the reigning OFH Food Fight* champions collected more than 3,000 pounds of food for Ozarks Food Harvest’s network of pantries.

The CMS art students even turned the food donations into an art project this year. Pictured is the "TiCANic." 
This winter, Honor Society students decided to stretch Cherokee’s giving by donating more than 80 hours of time (within the past three months). The students helped sort 8,400 meals to be distributed among 250 nonprofit organizations. The students worked three-hour shifts after school or during their holiday vacation.

“Students get to choose where they want to volunteer, but this group has taken an interest in Ozarks Food Harvest due to the impact they are making in the community,” said Pam Vokolek, who helps coordinate CMS volunteers. “The students like Ozarks Food Harvest because they are helping families in need and specifically, they are helping other Springfield Public Schools students who are hungry and in need of food.” 

Cherokee students volunteer to pack food boxes for low-income seniors in need. 
“I like volunteering at Ozarks Food Harvest,” a CMS student told OFH. “I’m moving around and sorting different things. The time goes by really fast. ”

*Food Fight is an OFH food drive competition among local area schools. The school collecting the most pounds of food per student is named Champion and receives the Food Fight traveling trophy currently housed at Cherokee Middle School. This April, Ozarks Food Harvest is challenging Springfield’s elementary, middle and high schools to the 2013 Food Fight.

To learn more about Food Fight, contact Sara McClendon at (417) 865-3411. If you already participate in food drives benefiting OFH, please consider volunteering your time to deliver the collected food or help sort the food during a volunteer shift.