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Pantries Seek Matching Grants to Leverage Major Gift, Withstand Food Funding Uncertainty

Bart Brown - OFH
OFH CEO Bart Brown speaking at Thursday's ceremony announcing their $125,000 gift from the Walmart Foundation/Credit: OFH

The Walmart Foundation has gifted Ozarks Food Harvest with a $125,000 grant, their fourth such gift of this size, which could equal 1.5 million meals for southwest Missouri children, families and seniors. As KSMU’s Scott Harvey reports, the funding is more important than ever amid what one executive calls a “perfect storm” within the hunger relief arena.

Ozarks Food Harvest is encouraging their 250 member pantries throughout the region to use these dollars from the Foundation’s State Giving Program to apply for pass-through matching grants, potentially leveraging the gift to $250,000.

CEO Bart Brown says that since the recession, demand for food has nearly tripled, with roughly 170,000 people receiving service each month through the organization’s network of pantries.

“What we’re seeing now is that people are going back to work, but they’re going back to work to lower paying jobs. And wages tend to be depressed in southwest Missouri, and they tend to be more depressed than the cost of living, especially housing.”

That means private charities are being called on to address those gaps, says Brown. He adds that many of the federal programs that OFH and other organizations rely on are in jeopardy, considering the stalled debate in Congress over the nutrition side of the Farm Bill. While a plan has been agreed to in the Senate, the House signed off on a bill dealing only with farm programs. And a call for sharp cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, if approved; would drive more people to local food pantries, Brown says.

“And we’ll continue to drive the amount of food that we need to distribute higher and higher. The problem is, at the end of the day, where is this extra food going to come from to supplement what’s not going to come through the federal programs? And that’s a question that no one has an answer to at this time.”  

Ozarks Food Harvest says that since 2010, they’ve awarded more than 100 pass-through grants utilizing gifts from Walmart totaling $350,000, leveraging the State Giving Program’s donations to $700,000.

According to Brown, over that same span their organization has distributed over 30 million pounds of food, or the equivalent of about 28 million meals.