by Janet Dabbs
It has been approximately two years since Food for Morgan County food pantry moved into a home of their own on West Newton Street in the former Gerbes Supermarket building in Versailles.
The food pantry was created in 2012 to help secure a consistent source of supplemental food for low-income residents of Morgan County. The first four years, they distributed food one time per month, using space donated by the Family Worship Center. This distribution reached as many as 350 families on some months. The need continues to grow. The pantry hit a record number in December 2018, when they served 600 families.
Poverty in Morgan County
A household of one is considered to be in poverty if they earn $12,140 or less. A four-person household is considered to be in poverty if they earn $25,100 or less. According to the US Census, in 2017 there were more than more than 1,051 households in Morgan County whose household income was below $10,000. There were 634 households whose income was $10,000 to $14,999 and 1,034 households whose income were $15,000 to $24,999 and 19.6 percent of the people in Morgan County fall below the federal poverty level.
The food pantry faced many challenges in their early years, as they quickly outgrew their space and the real needs of the community were realized. Recipients had to wait in line for several hours. While they were waiting, volunteers had to set up the distribution space, unload the delivery truck, and move other food from their warehouse located several blocks away. While they continued this effort, they began to look for space that would meet the needs of the food pantry, and better meet the needs of the community.
Community Resource Center
In 2016, they acquired the former Gerbes Supermarket property they now occupy. From the beginning, they have had a vision of becoming more than “just” a food pantry. They wanted to create a space where other agencies serving low-income families could offer services. They knew this would make access to services more convenient for families that often face transportation challenges. They also hoped, by working together, these agencies could more effectively provide services to those most in need. With these goals in mind, they created not just a food pantry, but a “Community Resource Center.”
“Our goal is to create a space that offers more than a hand out,” said John Wagner, president of Food for Morgan County. “We want to create opportunities for low-income families and individuals to be more aware of community resources and become more self-reliant.”
In addition to these resources, the Morgan County Community Resource Center currently hosts several agencies in addition to Food for Morgan County.
During each food distribution, a variety of agencies have representatives placed throughout the waiting room, with the purpose of providing information and resources to those receiving food. Information about health insurance, healthy nutrition, and job training is presented. Recipients get food samples and free nutritious recipes, free books, information about insurance benefits, and VA access.
“The information on navigating Medicaid and Medicare has proven to be invaluable,” said Food for Morgan County board member Linda Lagergren said. “Many of our food recipients have severe teeth and health issues and several have learned how to get dentures and save hundreds of dollars on their prescription costs. When they can save money on their food and prescription budget, they can use that money for utilities or other important necessities.”
West Central Community Action Agency was the first tenant. This office provides energy assistance, weatherization, housing assistance, and job training.
Powerhouse Community Development is also part of the resource center. This agency offers multiple programs targeted toward individuals recovering from substance abuse and/or re-entering the community after incarceration. Their services include support in re-entry, recovery, life skills training, employment training, and support group meetings.
The third tenant to move into the center is a counseling program which offers confidential support to those experiencing challenges, through the Department of Social Services and the Department of Mental Health.
Morgan County Health Center personnel teach a weekly cooking class that is focused on nutrition. They show food recipients how to cook the food they receive from the pantry.
The University of Missouri Extension Office is also planning to begin teaching similar nutrition cooking classes.
The United Methodist Church in Versailles bakes 50 loaves of sweet bread every month to give to the pantry.
The pantry has a “senior boxes” program, much like WIC, but for seniors. Seniors 60 years and older, who qualify due to reporting a very low income, receive a box of staples every month. In a recent distribution,120 seniors received a senior box.
Kitchen and Meeting Room
In addition to the agency offices in the building, there are two other parts of the center that offer future opportunities. A large working kitchen has been completed. This kitchen is intended to be used for two purposes: cooking and serving meals and serving as a site for cooking instructions.
A community meeting room is the other component. This meeting room, which has a separate entrance, is available to the agencies occupying the building and to outside groups. It can be used for meetings, family get-togethers, or meals.
While these agencies, working together, have seen their clients benefit from improved access, there is more to come. The Resource Center has some undeveloped space they hope will bring expanded benefits to the community. They are currently looking for more agencies, geared toward assisting low-income people, to join their efforts and expand the resources available. The goal is to educate recipients so that they can become more self-sufficient.
“Many of the people we are helping find ways to either show us their gratitude or help others,” Lagergren said.
Food recipients donate empty egg cartons, volunteer at the pantry, and give rides to neighbors who need to pick up food at the pantry, and more.
Besides volunteers who work hard each week to distribute food, the pantry has a group of special education students from Versailles High School whocome to the pantry every Tuesday to help stock the shelves with food.
The pantry needs monetary donations and volunteers. Their biggest need right now is a new walk-in freezer.
“I want to thank everyone who has volunteered and who has given to Food for Morgan County. You are helping our families, friends, and neighbors,” Lagergren said.
For additional information, call 573-378-8712.