The Food Bank works to beat childhood hunger in Mid-Missouri.

photos by Amber Brondel

Claudia Kehoe resolutely clasps her hands upon the table and says something both simple and complicated: “Children should not go hungry.”

In Jefferson City, there is a whole host of people trying to end child hunger by volunteering through the Buddy Pack Program, a program sponsored by The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri that provides children with a bag of food to take home from school each weekend.

“For many of these children, the only meals they get are the ones provided by the food service at their school,” says Ann Littlefield, coordinator of one of the packing programs in Jefferson City. “The packs provide food for when they aren’t at school.”

The Buddy Pack Program began locally back in 2005. There are three organized groups that pack a total of 1200 bags of food each week for students in Jefferson City and its surrounding area. That rounds out to about 156,572 pounds of food each year according to the Food Bank’s 2016 statistics.

Kehoe and Littlefield, who both sit on the board of directors for the Food Bank, took a morning to talk about the history and efforts of the Jefferson City Buddy Pack Program.

“I just started calling my friends and asked them to help,” says Littlefield, who has been coordinating her group since 2007. “I drug Claudia in to help me, but we never had trouble finding volunteers. Word just spread among the community.”

That’s great, because it takes a lot of hands to make the program work. First, large pallets of “shelf-stable” foods are delivered from the Food Bank in Columbia. Then volunteers gather to unload the pallets, pack food, and organize the bags. Each bag, or “pack,” contains two entrées, like cans of ravioli, soup, or meat; two bags of cereal; a container of powdered milk; and two servings of fruit, like fruit cups or applesauce. Students receive one jar of peanut butter per month. After being packed up, the bags are loaded and distributed to the schools, where they’re given to the children on Friday afternoons.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot of food, but you have to remember that some of these are very small children who have to carry the bags home,” Littlefield says. “Bags of canned food are heavy. People don’t think about how hard that must be for them.”

To be part of the Buddy Pack Program, children must qualify for free or reduced lunches at their schools. There is no application process. Most children are recommended for the program through school counselors.

Packers begin packing the week of Labor Day and students get a bag of food each weekend throughout the school year. For Christmas and spring break, when students are away from school a longer period of time, they’re provided with two packs to hold them over.

“It’s truly difficult to put a price tag on the value of peace of mind, knowing our kids have access to food at times when they’re not with us,” Amy Berendzen, director of school-community relations with the Jefferson City School District, wrote in an email addressing the importance of Buddy Packs.

“Right now, we’re meeting the demand,” Littlefield says. “But the numbers are increasing, and we’re reaching the max of what we can afford.”

It takes $180 to feed one child per school year, and the Food Bank provides food for 7,500 packs across 28 counties. Their funding sources include governmental assistance and grants, but the larger amount of funds comes from donations — the Food Bank is able to purchase $2,100 worth of groceries for every $100 they receive. A recent partnership with the United Way helps the Food Bank bring a refrigerated, mobile food pantry to the city five times per month. “We’re hoping that will help alleviate the need in the community,” Littlefield says.

They’re also excited about a partnership with the MU and their Missouri Tigers Score Against Hunger campaign, which began in 1995. According to Liz Townsend-Bird, spokesperson for Score Against Hunger, The Food Bank became the first “official charitable partner of Mizzou Athletics” in 2016, and the two have renewed that partnership for the 2017-2018 academic year. The Taste of the Tigers fundraising event will be held on Thursday, October 5 at Memorial Stadium in Columbia and will feature tailgate-inspired food and beverages from local chefs and include unique on-field activities. Tickets will be $50 per person.

Littlefield and Kehoe are sometimes overwhelmed at the outpouring of support they receive for the Buddy Pack Program. “It’s amazing,” Littlefield says. “We get calls all the time from companies wanting to donate or wanting to know how they can help.”

But it isn’t just companies — the whole community seems to come together to help feed its children. Girl and Boy Scout troops, the Jefferson City Host Lions Club, MoDOT, and the Young Professionals group at the Chamber of Commerce are a few of the many who lend their efforts. And students from the Jefferson City Academic Center have shown up to pack two mornings per month for the past three years.

“It just needs to be done,” declares Kehoe.

And it is.


Read more about Jefferson City’s philanthropies and nonprofits here.