Community Kitchen celebrating 10 years of outreach

Saturday, November 14, 2020
Volunteers at the Monett Food Pantry gather to unload a truck of food donated by Walmart. The donations range from deli, produce, bakery, frozen items and meat departments. Melonie Roberts/reporter@monett-times.com

Volunteers with Monett Community Kitchen help alleviate food insecurity

Ten years ago, it was an idea spoken aloud while two couples sat on a deck one evening and pondered how to reach people in need in the Monett area.

This month, the Monett Community Kitchen celebrates 10 years of providing twice weekly meals to area residents who are suffering food insecurity.

In recent months, the Community Food Pantry has seen more recipients coming through the weekly distributions, as area residents suffer lay-offs or other financial burdens associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers say vehicles often are lined up through the parking lot and out to the highway at the First United Methodist Church, where the weekly Food Pantry distributions take place. Melonie Roberts/reporter@monett-times.com

“It was me and my husband, Steve, and Melissa and Raymond Priest sitting on the deck and talking about helping people in Monett,” said Carol Stidham, one of the founding board members of the Monett Community Kitchen. “Steve realized through his work and saw what was going on in the community and that there was a need.”

Afterward, Steve spoke to Charlene Dart, of First United Methodist Church, and started the Kitchen.

“That first night, we had only seven people, maybe,” Stidham said. “Last week, we served 200 people in one evening.”

The Community Pantry, started five years ago at First United Methodist Church after the success of the Community Kitchen, serves about 500 people per month in the Monett area. These are one example of the items eligible recipients are given up to twice per month. Melonie Roberts/reporter@monett-times.com

The Kitchen relies on volunteers to aid in the cooking and distribution of those twice-weekly meals. Food for those meals is provided through financial donations, and the Kitchen now serves approximately 440 people per week.

“Distributing meals from the drive-through is more efficient, especially since our numbers are up,” Stidham said. “This makes it convenient for people to take the meals home to their families and eat with them.”

Five years after the Kitchen started serving meals, the board expanded its outreach and formed the Community Pantry, a partnership with Ozarks Food Harvest in Springfield.

Raymond Priest, one of the original founders of Monett Community Kitchen 10 years ago and the Monett Community Pantry five years ago, checks the shipment from the Farm to Family produce boxes, which come from the United States Department of Agriculture. The boxes typically contain vegetables, fruit, milk, cheese, eggs and a meat product. Melonie Roberts/reporter@monett-times.com

Eligible recipients can receive a significant amount of food twice a month. A recent distribution found a full box of non-perishable and canned items, a second box Farm to Family box of produce from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that included onions, apples, cheese, milk, eggs and frozen meatballs, and donations of deli items, vegetables, fruits and baked goods from Walmart.

“We rely on our local business partners,” Stidham said. “We are grateful for Tyson Foods, American Dairy Farmers, Jack Henry and Associates, International Dehydrated Foods, Walmart and the donations of beef and other food items from individuals. Weiser Tent is also helping by providing a permanent tent here at the church for our distributions.”

The Food Pantry, a herculean effort that sometimes appears to be organized chaos, was developed to help alleviate food insecurity for those in Monett and the surrounding area.

Peppers, avocados, limes, bananas and more fill these boxes donated to the Community Food Pantry by Walmart. Eligible recipients receive a box of items up to twice a month in an effort to relieve food insecurity in the Monett and surrounding areas. Melonie Roberts/reporter@monett-times.com

“Once a month, we get a semi-truck of food that we have to buy from Ozarks Food Harvest,” Stidham said. “Three times a month, volunteers take two flatbed trailers to Springfield and load them up. Sometimes, we get the items we order, and sometimes we don’t. When we don’t, that makes our food boxes short. Like with meat, sometimes we don’t get what we ordered. Luckily, Walmart provides deli meat and other items to fill the gaps.”

Food from the Ozarks Food Harvest does not come free, although recipients are not charged for the food boxes.

“This is a very costly operation,” Stidham said. “I order $400 a week in milk and $600 a week goes to Ozarks Food Harvest. The boxes we get from the USDA and from Walmart are free. We receive no federal or state funding. These programs run strictly on donations of money and food.”

Volunteers line up under a tent with items to load into vehicles for the drive-through Community Pantry food distribution each Monday. Organizers say since transitioning to a drive-through distribution effort, the process is more streamlined and efficient. Melonie Roberts/reporter@monett-times.com

The manpower required to operate the Monday food distributions is also no small feat.

“We have volunteers from the Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church and Latter Day Saints, all coming together to help their community,” Stidham said. “We have a lot of regulars coming through, but in the past several months, since COVID-19 hit, we have seen a lot of new faces as well.”

In the wake of COVID-19, operational procedures on the twice weekly meal and food box distributions has changed.

“We were having people come into the church and have a seated meal,” Stidham said. “Now, we pack the meals out and deliver them through the drive through at the church. Same with the food boxes. People used to come in and pick and choose what they wanted in their boxes. Since we have had to change the way we distribute, we fill the boxes and then place them in vehicles for people to limit our contact and prevent the possible spread of the virus. The new method is streamlined, more efficient and the lines move much quicker. I don’t think we will ever go back to the other way of distributing the food boxes again.”

For food pantry items, recipients must bring photo identification, a utility bill and proof of income. The qualifying income levels range from $1,450 for a single-person household, to $3,997 for a six-person household.

“The challenge is maintaining the financial balance so we can purchase food from Ozarks Food Harvest,” Stidham said. “We also depend on our excellent volunteers. These are very dedicated people committed to helping their community. They are there, week after week, to make sure these programs are a success.”

Food boxes and meals will not be distributed any time schools have been called due to inclement weather.

For more information, visit www.fumcmonett.org.

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