Neighbors come together to fight hunger
Tonie Lott will tell you the idea of a mobile food pantry came from her daughter, Jaydin. The then-8-year-old came home from school one day, grabbed a bag and headed straight to the food-lined shelves in their kitchen.“I asked her what she was doing and she told me, ‘One of my friends at school told me her family doesn’t have any food. I want to give her some,’ ” says Tonie, tears filling her eyes at the recollection.
“There we were in the middle of a pandemic and it broke my heart to hear that a child was worried about their family not having food,” says the mother. “When we got that need taken care of, we thought, ‘ There’s got to be more people in the area in need just like them.’ ”
At the suggestion of a friend, Tonie began reaching out to places like Convoy of Hope to see how they could help other families near their Howell County town of Moody, just miles from the Missouri-Arkansas line.
Convoy of Hope responded immediately with food for dispersal.
“In less than two hours we’d given out all 880 boxes of food,” says Tonie, noting they only shared the information by word-of-mouth. “That definitely showed us the need for food was greater than we thought.”
Pastor Larry Hopkins, many of his small congregation at the Center Grove Baptist Church and others in the community rallied to help start what is now a once-a-month mobile food pantry held on the church property in Moody.
Federal funds have allowed the church to receive food staples provided through Ozarks Food Harvest. Since last fall, federal dollars have covered the $1,000 needed to provide food boxes to their small community, but the group plans to cover the expense somehow if funds run dry.
While the church is the base for the mobile pantry, it takes a village of friends and family to put the plan together. Many volunteers drive from miles around to help load the cars as they drive through on food pantry day.
“Our youngest volunteer is 9 years old and the oldest is 83,” says Tonie, a member of Howell-Oregon Electric Cooperative. “We couldn’t do it without our great team.”
During the mobile food pantry in late April, the group was able to offer food to 225 families from within a 50-mile radius of Moody, population 348. Many of those receiving food don’t have the means to drive farther for assistance. And when the shelves are bare, many are dependent on friends and neighbors for food or simply do without.
“Resources were stretched beyond measure when the pandemic hit last year. A mobile food pantry like this can make a huge difference to a family who might wonder where their next meal is coming from,” Tonie says, estimating the pantry currently helps feed 1,000 people each month.
On food pantry day, volunteers arrive at the church around 8 a.m., on a date which is selected by Ozarks Food Harvest, usually falling the last week of the month. When the box truck arrives, pallets of canned goods, bread, fresh produce, milk and more are unloaded in a small building at the church.
“We needed a building to work out of, so the church poured concrete and turned this into our storage area,” Tonie says, pointing to the 20-by-20-foot metal building. “We aren’t a large congregation, but we have a heart to serve our neighbors.”
Once the truck is unloaded, volunteers continue to arrive and sort food until the designated drive-thru time of 2 p.m. Then, like a well-oiled machine, each person loads the food into vehicles as they drive by the building.
During April’s food giveaway, a car pulls up to the sign-in point and the driver turns off the engine. The couple has driven 30 miles one way to sit for two hours before the event begins to ensure they can receive much-needed food for their family.
“This means so much to us. I’m not sure what we’d do without their help,” says the woman.
By 1:30 p.m., 42 vehicles were lined up to receive food.
Casey Gunn, a representative for Ozarks Food Harvest, comes down from the Springfield office for Moody’s food pantry each month. She says Moody is one of the smallest towns in the region to offer a food pantry.
“You can see there’s definitely a need and they reach the people who need it most,” she says.
The Ozarks Food Harvest website shares for every $1 donated to them, the organization is able to provide four meals to those without food. Located in Springfield, the group provides food to 270 hunger-relief efforts across 28 counties in the Ozarks.
When the one-day food pantry is done, Tonie says the group doesn’t stop helping folks in need. They are currently creating personal hygiene kits to offer upon request, and through Ozarks Food Harvest, the volunteers also distribute Senior Boxes early in the month to those 60 years and older who meet federal income guidelines. Currently they distribute 131 of those food boxes to qualifying seniors in the area. The coordinator adds they have nearly as many names waiting to be added to that list.
Until then, the community keeps working together to help their neighbors in need.
“God took a few loaves and fishes and fed the masses,” says Tonie. “We’re glad to be able to get food into the hands of those who’re hungry. We don’t want anyone going without food if we can possibly help them.”
For more about the mobile food pantry, follow Center Grove Baptist Church on Facebook or send an email to email@example.com. For information about Ozarks Food Harvest, go to www.ozarksfoodharvest.org.