OZARK, Mo. – Least of These food pantry announced Thursday on Twitter that they will be turning their focus solely to providing food for families in need in the community.

This means that they will no longer be providing assistance for Christmas gifts.

The food pantry is partnering with the John Thomas School of Discovery to help provide food for families in Christian County.

The school is growing a tower garden as part of its curriculum. Some of the food grown will be used in the school cafeterias and some will be donated to Least of These.

Executive Director Kristy Carter told OzarksFirst that 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.”