Courageous Conversations: Homeless Youth Battle Food Insecurity

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Homeless teens and young adults in the Ozarks might be living on the streets or even couch-surfing going from one relative or friend’s house to the next. Whatever the case may be, most of them are dealing with food insecurity, meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

“Teenagers eat a lot, whether they are homeless or not,” said Ben Tegeler, Outreach Coordinator at Rare Breed.

But for those who are homeless, eating is sometimes not an option. Those who are still in school rely on the school system during the day. Others who are of age, might count on Food Stamps. But some, might resort to something illegal…

“If that means stealing, criminal activity to get money to buy food,” Tegeler said. 

Tegeler says some might even fall victim to labor or sexual exploitation.

“I would say 100 percent of the literally homeless youth that have stayed out there on the street have been approached by some sort of labor or sexual exploitation,” he said. 

To help keep youth from dangerous situations and from going hungry, Rare Breed Outreach Center offers a safe place with resources and food. Staff in the outreach program fill backpacks with donated non-perishable items and go out looking, about three times a week, for camps or other locations where they might find at risk or homeless youth.

Tegeler says they search around wooded areas, abandoned buildings and houses. They also use GSI technology to spot areas where they believe youth might be.  

But a lot of teens and young adults come by on their own. Every week night volunteers serve dinner at Rare Breed, feeding 60 to 70 youth each night. For some, it might be the only meal they eat all day.

“We’re closed on Saturday and Sunday, and on Monday when they come in and we say ‘did you have an all right weekend? And they say, ‘I didn’t want all weekend,” Tegeler said. 

Rare Breed also counts on regular donations from a local church and Mama Jeans.
Diana hicks, co-owner, mama jean’s

“Anyone who has an abundance of anything should give back to those who are less fortunate,” said Diana Hicks, co-owner at Mama Jeans.

Each Mama Jeans location collects items that came in as a wrong order or that haven’t sold and drop them off at their East Sunshine location. That’s where The Kitchen, Rare Breed’s parent organization, picks up the donations every month. 

The donations help stock Rare Breed’s pantry, which youth have access to anytime they are open, and to the food bank, where they can shop for groceries once or twice a month depending on their situation. 

“We will get that truck and the shelves will be full for a day or so,” said Tegeler. “People will call and say ‘hey, do you have food’ and come and get their monthly food bag and then the shelves will be bare again. So, food is always a recurring need.”

Tegeler says they have volunteers scheduled to cook and serve those hot meals at least through next month.
What the center struggles with the most is keeping their pantry and food bank stocked up, so they are always taking donations of non-perishable items. 

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