Laura Miller George Help Center Director Phillip Iman recently received a call from Missouri American Water. They wanted to know about the center’s operations and how they could help.

The Help Center on Wednesday received a $2,500 grant from Missouri American Water and the American Water Charitable Foundation to help its operations. The Food Bank of Northeast and Central Missouri, a Help Center partner, also received a $2,500 grant.

“I did not apply for this grant. They called me and said, ’How can we help? Could you use financial support?’” Iman said. “They are supporting our efforts to provide food throughout this pandemic.”

All of the food distributed at the Help Center comes from the Food Bank in Columbia. The Help Center, on average, receives 2 million pounds of food each year that is then distributed throughout the county, Iman said.

“We don’t pay anything for that food,” he said. “Nothing for delivery, nothing for the food. Anything. That is fantastic [the Food Bank] has that kind of mechanism in place to fund that.”

The American Water Charitable Foundation distributed more than $300,000 in grants Wednesday, with $25,000 going to Missouri organizations, including the Help Center.

The grant will help with food distribution operations, which is where a majority of the Help Center’s funds are directed.

A small percentage goes toward administrative staff, while the rest is for operations and upkeep of the 22,000-square-foot building. This includes, utilities, insurance and workman’s compensation insurance for its volunteer workforce.

The Help Center took a financial hit when it had to close its thrift store for two months due to the coronavirus. The store generates between $8,000 to $10,000 per month. Fewer volunteers are able to assist at the Help Center, as well.

Most of the volunteers are older or have pre-existing conditions, which means they have to stay home for the time being. The center went from a workforce of around 100 volunteers to about 40.

This is why so many outside agencies and organizations have continued to support the Help Center, like Missouri American Water, Iman said. The center also has received donations from local insurance agencies and their parent companies, such as Shelter Insurance and Fidelity Insurance, among others.

“I have been struggling with how to recognize all these companies because they did not have to [support us],” Iman said. “These are local insurance agencies, and even a local church put together a $5,000 donation for us as well. It is so cool how much people care.”

The Help Center through the two-month quarantine period did see an increase in applications for food distributions. Despite the increase in applications, the number of people receiving food packages dropped in April and May, worrying Iman. Around 500 fewer people in Audrain County received supplemental food in April. Iman attributed this to residents receiving the federal stimulus check, but there possibly still were underserved populations: the elderly and disabled.

The Help Center can conduct food deliveries for those groups, Iman said in May.

Feeding Missouri, the agency which oversees the six Missouri food pantries, is encouraging state residents to seek out food from local pantries if it is needed, according to a news release. Feeding Missouri partnered with the Missouri Departments of Corrections, Social Services, Economic Development, Agriculture, Health and Senior Services, Higher Education and Workforce Development and Elementary and Secondary Education to make sure all residents have access to food during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The only requirements are proof of residency, basic demographic information and questions on what one’s food needs are. Those who sign up for food packages from food pantries do not have to be SNAP recipients. It is open to anyone with a need, the release stated.

Local pantry information is available through the Feeding Missouri website. People should call their local pantry with any questions.