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October 20, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST
It’s 5 p.m. at the Salvation Army Harbor House on Ann Street. Stainless steel lids are removed from the serving containers to reveal billowing steam, bubbling sloppy Joe meat, scalloped potatoes, peas and corn. Regional Salvation Army Coordinator Major K. Kendall Mathews sits in a booth alongside those who have come for dinner. A Salvation Army employee offers Mathews good news: They have served a record number of veterans in a month. He bows his head, the employee whoops and Mathews scoots his feet in a celebratory jig.
But the good news is a reflection of a grim situation. The Salvation Army served more veterans because service needs have increased significantly due to the nation’s economic state and rising poverty rates. According to a Sept. 19 news release from the U.S. Census Bureau, 15.1 percent of Americans lived below the poverty rate in 2010.
The Salvation Army
1108 W. Ash
To donate to the Salvation Army, drop off contributions at either of our Salvation Army Family Thrift Stores, located at 23 E. Walnut Street and 1304 Parkade Blvd, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.
Central Missouri Community Action
800 N. Providence
To donate to Central Missouri Community Action, contact Trina Almond, Communication and Development Director at 573-443-8706 x1071 or become a National Community Action Foundation member for $5.
Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri
2101 Vandiver Drive
To donate to the Food Bank, bring non-perishable items to the main 2101 Vandiver Drive. Good items to bring are canned meats such as tuna and beef, peanut butter, soup, and canned fruits and vegetables. Monetary donations and volunteers are also welcome.
Fifteen percent of Missourians live in poverty. That’s approximately 898,339 of the almost 6 million Missouri residents accounted for in 2010.
The poverty rate is defined by a family’s income that is less than its threshold for food, housing and health care, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2010, the federal poverty level for a family of four was $22,050, though the cost of living in Missouri was between $29,000 and $38,000. This is where it becomes complex to measure poverty.
Agencies such as the Salvation Army and Central Missouri Community Action are experiencing an increase in the need for services while simultaneously experiencing a decrease in incoming funds to provide those services.
Mathews says the Salvation Army’s grocery demand has risen by 539 people since September 2010 though donations have fallen by 33 percent, which forces the agency to cut back on services such as the rent and utilities programs.
“(The program) is what I call the ‘revolving door of service’ because it’s an endless cycle,” Mathews says. “A big part of our goal is to give people hope, to instill in them that even though the economy is down and you are a part of the marginalized or the disenfranchised, you still need hope.”
The Central Missouri Community Action coalition also intends to continue its support, but funding has recently decreased. The nonprofit agency’s federal funding was cut by 50 percent in anticipation of the national budget, Central Missouri Community Action Executive Director Darin Preis says. That reduction translates to nearly half a million dollars.
In response to these cuts, Central Missouri Community Action has been forced to reduce staff members from programs such as the utilities assistance program, which aims to provide skills that help families avoid the cycle of poverty. The program will now be mail-in only, and citizens can still apply for assistance in paying utility bills, but consultations can no longer be offered.
Although Central Missouri Community Action lacks federal stability, Preis plans to reach out to community members, businesses and organizations for funding and donations. “We’re going to be serving fewer people, but we’re going to serve them better,” says Preis.
The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri has especially noticed an increase in people living in “situational poverty,” which Food Bank Communications Coordinator Rachel Ellersieck defines as a short period of hardship due to job loss, medical bills or other costs. Short-term poverty levels have risen, and Ellersieck says Boone County pantry visits have increased by 15,749 people since 2008.
Shopping cart wheels squeak as patrons peruse the aisles of the Central Pantry, a service of the Food Bank, on Big Bear Boulevard. The shelves are scarce but offer Nilla Wafers, Triscuits, gallons of water, ranch dressing and bags of rice. Donations vary day-to-day, but Ellersieck says the shelves will become more plentiful when the weather turns colder. She is confident that donations will eventually sustain the increasing need.
This optimism is apparent in the message on the Central Pantry’s blue walls: “Sharing food, bringing hope.”