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Business is booming at the St. Anthony Food Pantry in South St. Louis, but that is not a good thing. Since Sisters Marie Orf and Connie Probst, OSF, began managing the program seven years ago their client load has gone from 120 people a month to 860 a month.
The Incarnate Word Foundation has been a vital partner in the growth. Foundation grants allow the pantry to meet hunger needs in a variety of ways. A foundation grant paved the way for an additional commercial refrigerator for the pantry. Sister Connie said the extra refrigerator allows the pantry to store more fresh produce, fruit, dairy and other much needed food products.
The foundation helped fund the pantry’s container gardening project. That effort allows the pantry to teach clients how to grow their own vegetables in limited spaces, and learn to work the earth in general. Another foundation grant helps subsidize tuition for clients pantry managers think would be good candidates for a Patient Care Technician program. Helping clients increase their education and then their employment is a powerful way to combat hunger. “The causes of hunger are no job, under employment and no education,” Sister Connie said.
The pantry has greatly expanded the array of services they offer clients. During a monthly visit clients can obtain free foot care, get employment information at a job clearinghouse station, speak with an attorney and learn about other medical resources including research studies at Washington University. There are weekly blood pressure screening, which can result in an immediate trip to the emergency room, and there are cooking demonstrations so clients can learn to get maximum benefit from the food they obtain at the pantry. “Adding vegetables to a beef stew makes it healthier and makes it go farther,” Sister Connie said.
In addition to food, clients can get personal care items, clothing, baby items, stuffed animals and books. Given the transportation challenges many of the clients face, Sister Connie said it is important to have as many services in one location as possible.
Some of their assistance comes with an educational component. Although their clients are poor, Sister Connie said they certainly have the aptitude to learn new skills. For clients to receive energy assistance they need to attend classes on cutting energy costs. Clients who want to participate in the Christmas program must attend five of nine classes offered which include budgeting, child discipline, forgiveness and healthy relationships.
Food remains the top priority at the pantry, but Sister Connie sees it as a means to an end. “The food gets them in the door, then we’re able to find out what their other needs are,” she explained.
“The food gets them in the door, then we’re able to find out what their other needs are.”