OZARK, Mo. — People in the Ozarks are still dealing with hunger as the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be felt and inflation drives the prices of gas and groceries higher and higher.
For people facing hunger in Christian County, Least of These provides nourishment and hope, but as Executive Director Kristy Carter told OzarksFirst, food pantries that provide meals are also feeling the sting of higher prices and food shortages.
“If you go to the grocery store and their shelves are empty, there’s nothing left for the food recovery for the food banks or the food pantries or people in need,” said Carter. “We also are experiencing those same shortages.”
“As we’re continuing to deal with the ripple effects of COVID is what I call it, we’re dealing with the inflation of gas prices, and food costs have gone up tremendously. Our food costs have gone up right now about 18% overall.”
Least of These is one of 270 hunger relief organizations served by Ozarks Food Harvest. Located in Springfield, Ozarks Food Harvest is the Feeding America food bank for southwest Missouri.
Some of Ozarks Food Harvest’s efforts, in addition to providing food to food banks in 28 counties, include a weekend backpack program for kids who need nutritious meals away from school, a mobile food pantry, and a food program for seniors.
Carter said seniors are among the 2,500 people who receive food from Least of These every month. 900 families also receive help each month. Least of These is the only full-service food pantry in Christian County.
“We are a choice food pantry so what that means is people can come to us with a grocery list of items that are available and they can pick and choose what they receive,” Carter said. “That does two things. It eliminates waste but it also gives our families that we serve a sense of dignity about what is in their pantries so they get to pick and choose what’s in their pantries.”
“We are also increasing the number of families that we’re serving,” Carter said. “Every day that we’re open, we’re getting about 15 new phone calls from families in Christian County who are needing assistance.”
Carter said Least of These is also seeing an increase in people who need assistance who have left Ukraine to escape the war there.
As part of our Putting the Ozarks First initiative, KOLR10 and Ozarks Fox are raising money for three organizations that serve the people in the stations’ viewing area, including Ozarks Food Harvest, which provides some of the food Least of These gives to families and individuals in need.
You can also give to Least of These directly.
“Our biggest needs right now are money of course,” Carter said. “Obviously, money is something that we can stretch farther than just going to the grocery store because of the relationships that we have with the food bank and also other relationships that we have with other wholesalers. And so we’re able to stretch that dollar further.”
Food donations are accepted Tuesdays and Thursdays at Least of These from 9:00 a.m. to noon. Least of These is located at 1720 James River Road in Ozark.
Another need is volunteers. Anyone who wants to volunteer can fill out an application on the Least of These website. There is also a client application for anyone who needs food.