BRANSON, Mo. – KOLR10’s previous examinations of childhood hunger in the “Courageous Conversation” series has shown just how prevalent the problem is in our state – nearly a quarter of Missouri’s kids are hungry or at risk of food insecurity.
In the Ozarks, the issue is amplified in the Stone and Taney County areas by a so-called “perfect storm.”
A group on the front lines of fighting the problem is Jesus Was Homeless. The organization packs up more than 1300 meals every Thursday night and delivers them to individuals in extended stay motels.
“Taney and Stone County are actually the highest in the state for poverty rate,” says Jesus Was Homeless executive director, Bryan Stallings.
“Actually, if you remove the economics of Branson, they would be some of the highest in the nation,” he says.
Stallings says the “perfect storm” of seasonal work, no public transportation and lack of low income housing are leading contributors to the problem.
Over the last seven years, his organization has seen a shift on delivery routes: it’s no longer just one person or a couple in the hotel rooms.
“You’ll have a mom and dad, and three or four kids in a motel room,” he says. “In a motel, they don’t have a stove they, don’t have a way of freezing their food or even large refrigerators.”
300 to 400 meals are delivered just to children in the hotels on Thursday nights. Stallings says there are so many kids in the hotels during the school year, school buses pick up and drop off at extended stay properties.
“We know statistically… they’re behind in their learning. It’s not just from food, although that’s part of it, but it’s also their environments.”
In addition to meals, Jesus Was Homeless has created a microwave cookbook, teaching residents how to create meals that go well beyond warming up food.
Work is also currently underway on a new 17-thousand square foot facility that should help address the hunger need in the community on a more permanent basis.
“So the school bus could drop them off at our facility with an after school program,” he says, “we can provide tutoring for the kids and a hot meal.”
The facility will also increase the impact of the “Jobs For Life” program. The course has already had success in moving lives in the right direction, and moving extended stay residents into more permanent housing.
“Lots of these kiddos, they just need love and relationships and hugs and people to let them know that they care,” Stalling says. “Their parents just need someone to come along side them sometimes to teach them parenting skills.”
The new Jesus Was Homeless headquarters is expected to open later this year.