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United Way Connects Partners To Fight Hunger During COVID-19 Emergency

Hannibal, Mo. – The United Way of the Mark Twain Area, which launched a COVID-19 Emergency Fund last month, announced on Wednesday a major new effort to address the increasing need for food at area senior centers and food pantries.

Community partners are donating 100 hogs – nearly 15,000 pounds of pork, enough for 60,000 meals – to feed individuals in need in Northeast Missouri.

Area food pantries are overwhelmed with sudden needs caused by massive job loss and businesses closing in the area, mirroring what is happening across Missouri and the nation.

“We are seeing a large increase in the number of individuals coming to them for help due to the devastating economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Justin Gibson, of Benson Financial who is serving as United Way Chairman for 2020.

For instance, in the opening days of the crisis in March, the Monroe City Food Pantry experienced nearly 100% increase in the number of families it served, leaving food pantry shelves sparse.

“I was scared I was going to have to tell someone I didn’t have food for them,” said Melissa Hays, a member of the Monroe City Food Pantry Board of Directors who helps direct with the pantry’s food distribution.

It is the same story at food pantries across Northeast Missouri.

Douglass Community Services’ Emergency Food Pantry in Hannibal reported that in March 54% of families served at its pantry were first-time users. In total, 1116 people were served. Pantry leaders are anticipating a continued increase in need as more people become unemployed.

Joe Kendrick, a Marion County farmer, reached out to United Way with an opportunity for the pork donation. Kendrick was familiar with United Way’s Special Initiative, Aly’s Project, where local youth can donate livestock after fair season to area food pantries and senior centers.

The initiative pays for the processing of the animal. Kendrick was hopeful United Way might be able to help find dollars to pay for the processing of more livestock. He contracts with JBS Pork to raise hogs. He takes care of the hogs each day in his hog barn and the pigs are owned by JBS. JBS currently is not taking any “cull” hogs. These are hogs that might have a hernia, known as a belly rupture, and/or do not make market weight.

Those hogs were available and JBS Pork was willing to donate them so they could be processed, and the meat could be distributed at local food pantries and senior centers. However, the processing would cost $95 per hog – a total bill of $9,500.

United Way went to work to find dollars to pay for the processing of these hogs and Continental Cement stepped up to provide the funding to make this project happen.

“Lots of people will benefit from this project and helping the community in this unprecedented time is very important for us,” said Jose Gutierrez, the plant manager of Continental Cement in Hannibal.

The hogs will be processed in Fulton, Mo at Central Missouri Meat & Sausage and the meat will be transported back to the area by Brian Gaines Trucking. The meat will then be distributed to food pantries and senior centers in Lewis, Marion, Monroe, Ralls and Shelby counties.

Tara Garside, administrator at the Paris Senior Citizens Community Center, said the donation will make a big difference for her clients. Garside previously received several hog donations through Aly’s Project.

“With that pork I was able to make my menus up to use it. Additionally, I was able to send pork to clients I knew were struggling to have enough to eat at their homes,” she said.

Added Stacey Nicholas, Director of Community Outreach Initiatives for Douglass Community Services: “We are so very grateful for all the people who came together under the leadership of the United Way of the Mark Twain Area to make this donation happen. Our pantry has seen a 68% increase and this meat will help many people.”