Students help community through food banks

The holidays are right around the corner, but not every family is so excited. With the declining economy, many families are beginning to worry about the cost of things, including the holiday meal. There is always one place that is there to help these families, and it is run by volunteers who want to help their community. This place is the local food pantry.

There are many food pantries in the area that all serve to help people in our own community and rely solely on the help of volunteers. One such food shelter is the Outreach Assistance Serving Individuals (OASIS) in St. Charles County, which has helped feed local families for 20 years, as of May 2010, and over 500 families monthly. For the holidays, OASIS has a special free Christmas shop for the families who get food from there where they can get clothes and toys. However, OASIS also helps the community year round. Like all food pantries, the functioning of this successful outreach depends on local churches, businesses and volunteers. OASIS’s executive director, Mr. Terry Rodewald, stresses the importance of volunteers to the organization.

“We get about 240 to 250 volunteers a month,” said Mr. Rodewald. “We are completely run by volunteers. We have no paid personnel. We represent 17 churches who help out on the 17 days a month we hand out free food. Other than that we rely on individual volunteers.”

Senior Emily White also believes volunteering is a crucial part of helping the community.

“People should volunteer as much as they can,” said White. “OASIS always need help. It’s good to help out because there’s a lot of people who need it.”

There are a lot of people who need help feeding their families, especially in these economic times.

“Because of the way the economy is, we have seen 27 percent more people coming in for free food,” said Mr. Rodewald. “We depend on our volunteers to help feed them.”

Food pantries and other charitable organizations, such as soup kitchens, need volunteers to help with many tasks.

“Our volunteers do a lot,” said Mr. Rodewald. “They sack groceries and hand them out. We have people who help out in our office and help us with our renovations we are doing right now. We have people who drive our trucks and pick up food from can drives and Schnucks. There’s something going on all the time here, so there’s always something to do. People clean and shelve food in the pantry.”

Students who volunteer know what needs to be done at the food pantries and for the community.

“I worked at OASIS. The Boy Scouts brought in cans and we separated them and organized them in the pantry,” said White. “I also help at a soup kitchen in the winter to feed homeless veterans.”

There are many reasons why students volunteer and help those in need. Whether it is to help the community or just spend time doing something positive, it seems students really enjoy helping out.

“It’s fun to volunteer,” said White. “You can go with people you know. I get to do it with my family, and I enjoy helping the veterans. It also gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling. You just know you’ve done something good for others.”

Other students enjoy the feeling that doing something for the community brings them.

“I like volunteering because it gives me a sense of accomplishment,” said senior Emily Beckmann, who volunteers at her church.

Other students volunteer just to get involved with something positive.

“I think volunteering helps build character,” said senior Katie Harding. “It really gets you involved in the community.”

Charities depend on their volunteers, but they need food to function, and that comes from a variety of places.

“We get food from Schnucks,” said Mr. Rodewald. “They give us the food they have to take off their shelves. It might be outdated, where they can’t sell it anymore, but it’s still good and fine to eat.”

Volunteering can take a lot of time, but there are ways to volunteer that even a person with the busiest schedule can take part in: donating. While volunteering is definitely needed by the food pantries, the actual food and money to help run things is even more crucial. According to the OASIS website, donations of just $140 to $250 can help a family get the same amount of food that would cost them $1000 at the store. Mr. Rodewald explained how important donations are to OASIS.

“We will probably spend about $80,000 this year on food,” said Rodewald. “Donations of food and money are welcome. We also have a thrift store that is open to everyone, because the profit goes towards buying more food. We have a whole list of food that we have to have at all times.”

Donations can also be made online, making it quicker than ever to help those in need. The St. Louis Area Foodbank offers an easy-to-use donation area on its website, which can be set up for monthly donations if you cannot donate a lot of money at once.

They really make it simple to donate, and 97 percent of proceeds go directly to feeding those in need, so you know your money is being put to use.

Operation Food Search is another program that can be donated to through its website, and donations can be made to benefit a specific program of it as well. Programs include food distribution and nutrition education. Operation Food Search’s website also offers a virtual food drive, which allows you to donate food from the comfort of your own home.

There are many places throughout the area that you can volunteer at this holiday season. While it is good to volunteer and help out year round, it is especially needed during these hard times. Whether it is volunteering your time to help run a food pantry or simply logging on to the computer and donating some much needed money, there are plenty of ways to help out this season and truly make the holidays special for some local families. OASIS can offer plenty of opportunities to help make this happen.

“All you have to do to volunteer at OASIS is call our office,” said Mr. Rodewald. “You can call Tuesday through Saturday. We are always there to answer the phone. We’ll ask you what hours and days you can come. We have quite a few high school and college volunteers, and we can work with your schedule.”

Students also lend some advice on how to make this happen.

“Really, just volunteer as much as you can,” said White. “There’s always people who need help. You can find a VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] post or soup kitchen. Food pantries always need the help.”

No matter where or how you volunteer, students agree the importance of doing so is profound.

“The most important thing is just to help people,” said Harding. “It doesn’t matter how big or small.”