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Food Insecurity in Our Community: 'The Pandemic Really Exacerbated That Problem'

Joanne Nelson is the Director of the Boone County Community Services Department, and Lindsey Lopez is the President and CEO of The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri.

They spoke with host Janet Saidi about the impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on food insecurity in our community and about just a few of the resources that exist.

This is an excerpt from KBIA’s weekly talk show, the Check-In with Janet Saidi, on Thursday, February 25. You can hear the full show – here.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words.

Janet Saidi: Joanne, what do you say to people who might have feelings of embarrassment or guilt preventing them from utilizing some of the resources that are available, even as they need it right now? And what do you say to the idea that you're maybe seeing people who are experiencing some of these issues for the first time?

Joanne Nelson: I say we're all in this together and that there is no shame in going to get help – whether that be if you need help with utilities, with rent, with food – there's so many options that people can go to to try and seek assistance and never be ashamed to ask for assistance. There's nothing to be embarrassed about.

Janet: Lindsay – a similar question to you: Can you sort of elaborate on the challenges that have come with facing food insecurity for the first time during a pandemic?

Lindsay Lopez: There are so many resources out there to help people who are in need, and Joanne and I both know this, well, we didn't go into this line of work, because we are expecting the largest salaries or you know, the best benefits – we went into this line of work because it's about making a difference in people's lives, you know, it's so profound.

So, we see these people who just are struggling, and we are here to help them with anything that they need. There are the most compassionate people work throughout our network, and we encourage people to utilize these services, that is why we exist,

Janet: Lindsay, you know, again we can hear, you know, the impact of the people that you've partnered with and the people that you've helped.

What would you say that people a lot of times in the community and your own family members and neighbors might not get that you're saying by being where you are on the frontlines with this pandemic?

Lindsey: You know, I tell our team a lot, we have over 60 team members here at the food bank, who are dedicated to this mission, and I tell them frequently – I have throughout this pandemic – “there are silver linings all around us, we just have to look for those.”

And as difficult as it has been, and it has been the most challenging thing that that we have done as an organization and our 40-year history – by far.

As difficult as it has been, we've had a national spotlight on the fact that food insecurity is such a prevalent problem and the pandemic really exacerbated that problem with so many people being in need for the first time.

So, you know, that is a good thing out of this – that people are aware that food insecurity surrounds each of us. We all have interaction with people who are considered food insecure – we just may not know it.

So, I hope your audience will really take that to heart that it truly is all around us.

If you or anyone you know needs help – per the Boone County Department of Community Service: “To find help with things like food, childcare, assistance paying household bills, medicine, healthcare, mental health services, or other essential services, please use our local guide to health and human services CoMoResources

Or, contact  United Way 2-1-1 (http://www.211helps.org/). It’s FREE and CONFIDENTIAL. Specialists are available 24/7. Dial 2-1-1 or 1-800-427-4626 (TTY 1-866-385-6525)”

Rebecca Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth Desk. Born and raised outside of Rolla, Missouri, she has a passion for diving into often overlooked issues that affect the rural populations of her state – especially stories that broaden people’s perception of “rural” life.
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