The National Association of Letter Carriers' 20th annual Stamp Out Hunger food drive is Saturday, May 12, and residents are encouraged to leave nonperishable items by their mailboxes for carriers to pick up.
It is the largest one-day food collection event in the nation, and so far, carriers have collected more than 1 billion pounds of nonperishable food and delivered it to families in need.
Food collected in Lawrence will be delivered to Just Food, the food pantry that serves Douglas County at 1000 E. 11th St. In April, the pantry served more than 2,300 individuals.
Just Food, a Douglas County food program, is applying to become its own nonprofit organization and will be moving out from under another nonprofit — East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corp.
Forrest Swall, vice chairman of the Just Food advisory board, expects the move to be complete within six months. He said it will eliminate the bureaucratic red tape they often face when it comes to implementing changes.
“As an independent organization, we will be in a position to make decisions and determine essentially the development and future of the program,” Swall said. “We think we will be in a position to more effectively meet the needs of people who have nutritional needs that are hungry in Douglas County.”
In 2011, Just Food distributed $676,503 worth of food, or about 880,000 meals, for free to 84,699 people, a 21-percent increase from a year earlier. This month, it is moving from a warehouse at 1200 E. 11th St. to a building twice the size down the street at 1000 E. 11th St.
Just Food is part of the Harvesters Community Food Network in Kansas City, Mo., and is able to obtain nonperishable and perishable items at a reduced cost. It can provide a complete meal for 20 cents. The program also gets donations of fresh produce from Douglas County farmers and the Lawrence Farmers' Market.
Just Food provides food through its pantry and also stores and provides food for 36 community partners, such as The Salvation Army, Heartland Community Health Center and the Lawrence Community Shelter.
The food program has an annual budget of about $448,000. That pays for two employees, rent, utilities, transportation and other necessities. It has about 60 volunteers who help write grants, enter data, store food and help clients.
Lots of growth
Just Food has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception in 2005 when it was just a concept among a handful of community leaders. At first, food was stored and distributed from the ECKAN office inside the United Way of Douglas County building. In 2009, ECKAN received a one-year $250,000 grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to start a full-fledged food program. In October 2009, it began operating out of its current location.
Once the grant expired, the program then was staying afloat with a $50,000 Community Service Block Grant and approximately $1,700 in community donations per month. Last year, the advisory board held a community fundraising campaign to raise $100,000 to keep the doors open and it was successful.
Last summer, Jeremy Farmer was hired as full-time executive director, replacing a part-time position.
“We are really excited that this is happening,” he said, of the move to become a nonprofit. “We’re looking forward to continuing to serve Douglas County and in an even greater capacity than we have in the past,” he said.
Richard Jackson, CEO of ECKAN, praised the advisory board and Douglas County community for its efforts.
“They basically rolled up their sleeves and did some things that were needed to make the program successful and hopefully become self-sustaining,” he said. “They did a lot of the work behind the scenes — recruiting volunteers and soliciting donations and funds from the community. I think the community should be proud of its efforts and it’s one that can be showcased to others.”
Jackson said ECKAN will continue to partner with Just Food and help serve those in need.
ECKAN is a community action agency that serves low-income residents through a variety of programs: housing, case management, youth, and food.
Jackson said it was funded in 1966 and grew out of the war on poverty. It receives mostly federal funding, but a little from the state and private donations. It serves 13 counties, including Douglas County.
“We do a little of everything to try to meet the needs of individuals who need some kind of assistance,” Jackson said. “We put a lot of emphasis on case management working with individuals to become self-sufficient so they are no longer dependent on federal or state funding.”
Douglas County’s food bank, Just Food, will be moving this month into a warehouse down the street at 1000 E. 11th St.
The new 9,600-square-foot location is more than double the food bank’s current site, allowing for storage of more food for an increasing number of clients. Just Food serves nearly 3,000 people each month.
The move is expected to be complete April 2.
Jeremy Farmer, executive director, said Just Food no longer will have to close on Wednesdays because there will be enough space to operate the food pantry and allow its 30 community partners to pick up food for their pantries. He estimated that each Wednesday Just Food turns away between 10 and 30 families seeking assistance.
In addition, Just Food has received a donated 9-by-30-foot cooler that will allow it to store six times the amount of food that needs to be refrigerated. It also will have more freezer space. Farmer said such space would have come in handy recently when The Salvation Army was seeking space to store food after its freezer quit working.
The new location also includes sky lights, spray foam insulation and air-conditioning. Last summer, several employees and volunteers became ill after temperatures reached above 100 degrees inside the building.
Just Food currently pays $2,000 per month to lease its space at 1200 E. 11th St. That rent was scheduled to go up to $2,600 in June. The new location will be $3,000 per month.
“We are excited about this move because it will give us a little breathing room to do what we do better,” Farmer said.
Jeremy Farmer, executive director of Just Food, will be available March 1 to discuss food insecurity in Douglas County.
He will be participating in an online chat at 2 p.m. on WellCommons.com. You can submit questions at anytime at WellCommons.com/chats. Make sure to log back on to WellCommons.com during or after the chat to see if your question was answered.
Just Food is the food bank for the county. In 2011, it distributed $676,503 worth of food, or about 880,000 meals, for free to 84,699 people, a 21 percent increase from a year earlier.
Farmer has spent 10 years working for churches, nonprofits and being an advocate for the marginalized. Before returning to his hometown of Lawrence, Farmer was director of community awareness at Project Hope Food Bank in Arkansas.