Every Thursday morning, Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service’s mobile food pantry has made a stop at Bruer Park in Truesdale, just outside of Warrenton.
Workers from the Care Service pulled crates from the refrigerated truck, filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, fresh and canned meats, grains and other nonperishable items. The large selection is set out on tables, allowing shoppers to choose what they’d like.
Brittny Barnes, who lives a few streets over from Bruer Park, has twice been to the mobile food pantry since it began making stops there in early April. A single mother of four children, Barnes receives disability benefits and said being able to access food in a convenient way has been a blessing for her family.
“It’s a big help, and a little bit goes a long way,” said Barnes, as she carried four full grocery bags to her car. Not having to worry about food relieves some of the pressure so she can focus on taking care of other bills, she added.
The Care Service launched its mobile food pantry to make food more accessible to the clients it serves in St. Charles, Lincoln and Warren counties. Since the pandemic, the Care Service has estimated that it’s lost about half of its regular clients who visit its food pantry locations in St. Charles and Elsberry.
“The numbers haven’t rebounded,” said executive director Pam Struckhoff, adding that other brick-and-mortar food pantries in the area have had similar experiences.
Knowing that the need is there — statistics from the Care Service show that 30,000 people in the tri-county area live below the poverty line — “we knew we had to go out and meet people where they are at,” Struckhoff said. There are additional challenges to offering brick-and-mortar food pantries in rural counties, where settlement is more spread out and those living in poverty may lack reliable transportation.
The mobile food pantry makes stops at a cluster of hotels in St. Charles County, where there is a known transient population; in Truesdale and Wright City, and at the parking lot of Calvary Chapel in Winfield and a hotel in Troy. The truck is temporarily sidelined for a repair but is expected to be back on the road soon, according to the Care Service.
About 130 households visited the Winfield location the first week of operation, said Michelle Ritter, food pantry program supervisor. Those who are living in hotel rooms are provided items that are better suited for an environment with limited means for preparing and cooking meals.
“They don’t have a fridge, they don’t have can openers and things along those lines,” Ritter said. “So it’s the soups that go in the microwave, it’s the pop tops on cans. We make sure to include shelf-stable fruits and vegetables. We try to focus on what they use in that hotel with the best nutrition they can get.”
Hygiene items, laundry soap and diapers, items which are not covered by food stamps, also are given out. At one hotel, the staff met a family whose daughter had given birth several days prior. On the next visit, Ritter brought nursing pads, bottles, diapers, wipes and formula and is working to get her set up with a case manager with the Care Service’s Healthy Families program.
By bringing the food pantry out into the community, the Care Service hopes to meet people where they’re at and possibly help address some of the underlying needs to help them out of poverty, Ritter said.
“If we can bring this out and help and ease their budget, because their money is going to pay for the hotel, then that’s what we’re here to do,” she said. “The goal is to try to connect them to resources.”
James and Rachael Stamer and their eight children recently moved to a new residence in Hawk Point. The family has received help from the Care Service on and off in the past several years, including with utility bills, furniture and food assistance. James and Rachel both have jobs, but they still need some help over and above what their incomes can provide.
Having the food pantry make a stop in Truesdale is a small convenience that helps the family in a big way, said James Stamer. “The 20-minute drive is much easier to get to rather than going to St. Charles,” he said.
>> Making Room Housing Campaign
Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service wants to address what it sees as a shortage of affordable housing in the tri-county area it serves.
The Making Room Housing Campaign has a goal of raising $1.5 million to purchase up to 20 housing units for clients it serves. About $1 million already has been raised toward the goal. The Care Service said the cost will result in a savings value of more than double that amount through reduced usage of community support and resources, including medical, educational and emergency services.
Approximately 30,000 people in St. Charles, Lincoln and Warren counties live below the poverty line and struggle to afford a place to live, according to statistics from the Care Service. Nearly 400 of them are living in a tent, car or space under a bridge on any given day.
Adding affordable housing options in the area will provide families and individuals relief from the stress of housing insecurity or homelessness, said executive director Pam Struckhoff.
“We have worked with smaller landlords who are willing to give people second chances,” Struckhoff said. In the last several years through the pandemic, “we’ve lost some of our landlords because they lost properties or sold them to investors that raised the rent.” The Care Service also has seen an increase in applications for assistance from new clients who are working, yet aren’t making enough to afford rent.
“We see all kinds of apartment complexes are being built in this area, but for people who are employed with manual labor jobs, they are not able to live here because they can’t afford it,” Struckhoff said. “The average person that we serve can’t afford $900 a month for rent. We’re just trying to make a little dent in the need.”
The goal is to set rent at 30 percent of a client’s income. A case worker also will assist with other needs, such as employment, to help clients boost their income and eventually work toward a more stable housing environment.
For more information on the Making Room Housing Campaign or to make a donation, see www.jacares.org/making-room-housing-campaign.
>> Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service
Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service in St. Charles addresses short-term and long-term homelessness and hunger issues. It offers comprehensive case management and wrap-around services that provide those in need with assistance as well as a connection with community partners.
The Care Service was founded in 1981 by five volunteers from Sts. Joachim and Ann Parish in St. Charles, with $500 and a spirit of charity. They were inspired by the charitable outreach of their founding pastor, Father Bob Leibrecht.
Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service receives funding from the Annual Catholic Appeal. In addition to volunteer assistance, the Care Service seeks monetary gifts from individuals, businesses, churches, civic groups and other organizations. For information, call (636) 441-1302 or visit www.jacares.org.