A new effort by the St. Louis Area Foodbank is helping more people gain access to food by bringing it closer to home.
The St. Louis Area Foodbank is now using mobile markets as a way to bring free meals to people who are food insecure. CEO Meredith Knopp says that, on average, there has been a 30 percent increase in requests for food assistance amid the COVID-19 crisis. And many of these are new clients who have never had to request food assistance before.
"These are men, women of all ages, and families, that are calling the food bank and we're directing them to their pantries or to a mobile market because they've never had to worry about it before," Knopp says. "Now they've gone from having a salary and a steady income to nothing, overnight."
The mobile markets are one way to address the additional need with fewer hoops for clients to jump through. For one, mobile markets can go into neighborhoods and greatly reduce the distance that one has to travel to access a food pantry. Especially with COVID-19 affecting public transportation systems, and the safety hazards for at-risk folks that come with it, food can be much more accessible when the distance traveled to receive it is reduced.
"Our goal has been to try do the best that we can to eliminate the stress and meet people where they are," Knopp says. "If transportation is a barrier, having to go 20 miles to get food is not helpful."
Unlike a typical food pantry, there is also no identification required to receive food from mobile markets, and there are no screening questions.
"What we've always said is, 'If you're hungry, we're here to serve,'" Knopp says.
Those who wish to use it can find their nearest market and pickup times online. To maintain a no-contact system, those who arrive by vehicle will be asked to open their trunk, and food will be placed directly in the vehicle. Check with the nearest mobile market to see if it is accepting walk-ups. You can find the nearest market on the food bank's website.
Those who are looking to help the food bank during this time can also find options on its website. Donations, both food and monetary, are always accepted, but the food bank is still accepting volunteers. If you want to help remotely, you can also host a virtual food drive to benefit the food bank.
Editor's note: This post has been updated to correct the name of the St. Louis Area Foodbank and to clarify the means of food distribution through mobile markets.
St. Louis Area Foodbank, stlfoodbank.org