Co-Mo begins food drive to help local hungry children

Co-Mo Electric members and staff can help combat hunger among children throughout the cooperative’s service territory.

The cooperative is launching a food drive to continue indefinitely benefiting the Buddy Pack program run through The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri.

This comes after a successful drive at the end of 2010 that netted more than 400 pounds of food for the Buddy Pack program, which provides food-loaded backpacks for kids in need to help them get through the weekend. Students are given the non-descript backpacks on Friday and return them empty on Monday to be filled up again.

The success of the holiday food drive led Co-Mo General Manager Ken Johnson and Assistant Manager June Nivens to consider changing its CFL lightbulb distribution program. Previously, members could get an energy-efficient CFL bulb by signing an Our Energy Our Future card authorizing a letter to be sent to Congress in their name supporting fair and reasonable energy prices.

“That effort was tremendously important and, combined with the efforts of co-ops around the nation, can be credited with helping stop the wave of cap-and-trade that was coming,” Johnson said. “Now that cap-and-trade talk has died down, we can look for other ways to help our members in the local community.”

So instead of getting a CFL for signing a card, beginning Sept. 1 members will get a CFL in return for dropping off at either of Co-Mo’s offices an item suitable for the Buddy Pack program. Those items include small jars of peanut butter, canned soup, juice boxes, granola bars, small cereal boxes, crackers and other items you would typically see in a school lunch box.

“Peanut butter is the most expensive item the Food Bank has to purchase,” Nivens said. “It’s such a staple of kids’ lives that it’s the one thing I would recommend most to members and staff who want to help.”

Statistics on hunger in the local area are staggering. Missouri is ranked seventh in the nation for food insecurity — the rate at which regular meals are anything but dependable — and fifth highest in child hunger. As the economy struggled in 2010, nearly all schools in the Food Bank’s 32-county service territory showed an increase in students qualifying for federally subsidized meals.

The Buddy Pack program continues to grow around the state. It nearly doubled in 2010 to help 6,200 children at 117 schools in all 32 of the Food Bank’s counties.

Beyond food items, members can donate money. A $1 donation can purchase 20 pounds of food. In 2010, 98.5 percent of donations were spent on food acquisition and distribution. Less than 2 cents of each dollar was used to meet administrative and fundraising costs in the past three years.

And beyond food and money, staff and members can donate their time. Volunteers are needed to meet the growing demand of the Buddy Pack program by stuffing backpacks each week. To volunteer, call (800) 764-3663.

“A hungry child will definitely have trouble learning,” Nivens said. “If a child is worried about where his or her next meal is going to come from or if there will be a next meal, that child isn’t going to learn. By helping us out in this effort, we’re helping the next generation in a very real, very tangible way.”

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