Sixteen Mexico-area residents have organized to form the Audrain County Food Bank Advisory Board (ACFBAB). The primary focus of the group is to obtain a larger facility for The Help Center, one which can replace the two mobile food pantries at local churches and consolidate other services which will ultimately provide transformative aid in poverty relief.
Co-Chairs for the ACFBAB are Alan Atkins and Jaye Jackson. "Our main goal is to try to obtain a new facility so we can expand the services currently offered by The Help Center, and by the Second Missionary Baptist Church and the First Presbyterian Church," Atkins said. "As the need for food assistance continues to increase, The Help Center facility is not large enough, and having the two churches pitch in two days a month is not a long-term fix."
The board plans to announce a fundraising campaign after the needs of the community are fully explored. "People in Mexico have always stepped forward in the past to help with big projects that are in the interest of our children and other citizens," Atkins said. "The need is obvious, and we will have to have assistance for us to move forward."
Lura Williams is the fundraising chair for the board. Plans are in place to also apply for state and local grants to help with the costs. A Facebook campaign is being organized, to encourage former residents, particularly active members of Mexico High School alumni groups, to donate to the fund.
"The next steps to be taken consist of establishing a presence within the community, and determining the best location that will serve many," Jackson said. "A larger facility will allow for various distribution dates to feed more families."
When a larger facility is obtained, it may become a rural distribution center for the area. Currently, the site exploratory committee of the board is looking at existing buildings in Mexico. "The Help Center is a 3,500 square foot facility, including the thrift store area," Bruce Oliver, committee member, said. "The board is looking to consolidate The Help Center and food distribution from the two churches in a 10-15,000 square foot facility with a truck loading dock in the city of Mexico."
Members of the board visited the Open Door food pantry and thrift store in Sedalia to obtain ideas for the new Mexico facility. "The Sedalia facility, located in two buildings, is supported by a consortium of churches in Pettis County (with food from The Food Bank)," Oliver said. "There, individuals and families are approved (or not) to receive distribution initially through a detailed questionnaire and subsequently through interviews to identify any changes in living situations every visit. All information is stored and networked by computer."
In Sedalia, the food is stored and distributed from a 10,000 square foot building. The thrift store is located a couple of blocks away in downtown Sedalia. Both are open four days a week.
Page 2 of 2 - In Mexico, food from The Food Bank is currently available the first and third (and fifth) Wednesdays of each month at The Help Center, with emergency food needs met on a daily basis. The Second Missionary Baptist Church distributes food on the fourth Wednesday. In 2012, the First Presbyterian Church members began a distribution on the second Thursday of each month to assist in making more food available in the area.
"The need has begun to show up everywhere as we see more people looking for help," Rev. Terry Kukuk of the Presbyterian Church said. "We were approached by the leadership of The Food Bank to consider becoming a mobile food pantry in an effort to bring more food into Audrain County."
The additional day of distribution each month began in August. "Church members committed to a monthly food pantry, and the process has provided us with a great community-building experience," Kukuk said. "We have lots of volunteers who have discovered a heart for making connections with our neighbors as they put faces to the statistics of hunger."
According to numbers provided by The Food Bank, Missouri ranks fifth in the nation for food insecurity (not knowing where the next meal is coming from) for children under the age of 18. In Audrain County, 6.4 percent of the residents are at or below the federal poverty level. In 2012, the Food Bank in Columbia served 105,000 people in its 32-county area.
The board also has become a community advisory council of The Food Bank. The Audrain board would be the second county advisory council. A council also exists in Adair County. "The Food Bank has a real commitment to the people of Audrain County," Kukuk said. "They have done everything possible by supplying us with food and training. The leadership there is excited to be on board with us in this next endeavor, and I know our partnership will continue to develop."
The mission statement of the board is "Helping individuals and families in need by providing food, empowerment and support, while educating the community of the systemic issues of poverty in collaboration with others who address solutions for these needs."
Other board members are Rick Boyce, Kathy Craghead, John Dial, Nancy Ekern, Dustin Graham, Joyce Herron, Steve Hobbs, Gary Jones, Ron Loesch, Dudley Miller, Sterling Oliver and Glenn Wheeler.
The Food Bank liaison is Laura White Erdel, a former Mexico resident who is a member of The Food Bank Board of Directors.
"We have a diverse group on the local board, and now seems the right time to grow our local facility and services," Kukuk said. "We have so many people coming together to make this project happen, and we know we can count on the support of other Mexico-area residents."