St. Louis County is spending $2.6 million from its federal funding for the coronavirus response for food banks and other organizations delivering food to St. Louis County residents, including those in South County.
County Executive Sam Page announced May 13 that $2.6 million from the $173.5 million federal CARES Act grant was awarded to five community partners working to connect food with families struggling during the COVID-19 crisis.
The grants will go to Operation Food Search and St. Louis Area Foodbank, among five total organizations that “each have a long history of providing service in an efficient and effective way,” Page said at a press briefing with reporters announcing the grants.
“In America we really shouldn’t have to worry about making sure families have what they need to eat,” Page said at the event May 13. “It’s even worse now than it has been in the past decade. Before this pandemic, before this epidemic, food insecurity was a big issue, but it’s never been like it is today… The families who need it most will have access to food. No child should go hungry.”
Food insecurity also impacts senior citizens, who sometimes have to choose between food, utility bills and medicine, Page noted.
The county’s partner agencies report that up to 75 percent of people seeking assistance from a food pantry are doing so for the first time.
The agencies, the amount awarded and how the funds will be used are as follows:
Operation Food Search Grant Amount: $1,312,320
Operation Food Search will offer free meals weekly at distribution sites at 10 public schools and 10 libraries within St. Louis County between June 1 and the start of school in late August, including the Mehlville School District and the St. Louis County Library Weber Road Branch in South County.
St. Louis Area Foodbank Grant Amount: $655,750
The St. Louis Area Foodbank will distribute an additional 40,000 to 60,000 meals per week through mobile distribution events in St. Louis County. An additional 45,304 meals per week will be distributed through a network of 80 partner agencies and community programs.
Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis Grant Amount: $500,000
The Urban League will conduct events to distribute food and household goods to needy families during seven events at the former Jamestown Mall in May through August. It will also distribute food and toiletries to seniors and the disabled community weekly through the end of December.
Link Market Grant Amount: $110,000
Link Market will set up four popup weekly grocery markets within St. Louis County that will offer access to healthy, affordable food in food deserts between May and December, the county said in a news release. The funding will also sponsor 400 vouchers of $25 each and a 50-percent off discount for customers using SNAP food stamps.
Potbangerz Grant Amount: $27,032.50
Over 12 weeks, Potbangerz will serve over 1,650 well-balanced meals to unhoused families and will deliver two weeks’ worth of groceries and other essentials to approximately four families per week.
Grant funds are ‘transformational,’ but are no-bid contracts
Representatives of the St. Louis Area Foodbank, which serves 26 counties in the St. Louis metro region of Missouri and Illinois, called the funds “transformational” in what it will do for food for families.
Operation Food Search Executive Director Kristen Wild said that her organization needs the funds due to the spike in need since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The organization supplies 200 agencies and feeds 200,000 people a month.
Before the pandemic, food insecurity rates in Missouri were at 14 percent, and then it jumped to 41 percent, she said.
“Since the onset of the pandemic we’ve been working in overdrive” to provide food for those people who need it, Wild said. “There are many people who are going to bed hungry and don’t know where they’ll get their next meal or how they will feed their children.”
To try to change that, Operation Food Search is holding drive-thru events with the Urban League as well as distributing grab-and-go meals and emergency food packs at school districts like Mehlville and at St. Louis County Library branches.
Operation Food Search is “thrilled” to receive some of the county’s coronavirus response funds, and with the money will be able to offer food for adults and full families at the 10 library locations with drive-thru meals.
“These meals are going to provide nourishment, stability and hope for thousands of people,” Wild said, noting that anyone who wants to donate can do so at operationfoodsearch.org.
Potbangerz is a smaller organization that before receiving the county grant, cooked and served 150 meals to homeless families every Thursday.
But the money to the Link Market has some opposition from a frequent observer of county politics.
In an email to the County Council June 8, University City resident Tom Sullivan questioned the no-bid food contracts involved in the grants and the distribution of funds to the Link Market, which had operated in MetroLink stations in North County before those two markets closed due to lack of business, MetroLink operator Bi-State Development Agency said at the time.
“They are of no importance whatsoever to North County as they hardly do any business,” Sullivan said of the Link Market, which he sees as a pet cause of Page’s administration.