One Father’s Story Inspires a Commitment to Hunger Relief
5/17/2013 1:38:00 PM by
Since I have worked at the St. Louis Area Foodbank for more than 15 years, there are countless moments that have truly made my job matter to me.
I was the hired in 1997 as the Foodbank's first-ever communications coordinator. Right off the bat I knew I wanted to learn more about our member agencies and the clients they serve.
Visiting agencies and getting to know these individuals helped me solidify the message I was asking the community to hear. It worked - so I continued visiting agencies often. I still make agency visits to this day.
Over the years, I have met dozens of people who have inspired me in my nonprofit work at the Foodbank. But there is one moment in particular that always comes to the forefront in my mind.
I met Gene during a lunch-hour visit to a soup kitchen in St. Charles. Gene was a middle-aged man who stopped by the soup kitchen for a meal when he could get away from the jobsite long enough to eat.
Now, I know what you're thinking. . .
"Jobsite? If he has a job, then why on earth is he at a soup kitchen?"
Here's why: Gene worked in the construction business, a fact that was evident from his work clothes and the tape measure on his belt. Despite his job, this man had been in need of help for the two months since his wife left.
They were a family of four, Gene said, and seemingly happy, until "she just left" one day. The note explained that she was sorry, and that she was leaving to pursue another life with someone else.
Gene was floored. He had had no idea his wife was unhappy.
To make matters worse, not only did she leave Gene and her two children, she also took the modest funds the family had saved up in their joint checking account.
Gene, as most of us would, began to struggle trying to maintain family expenses. He said he realized he "needed some help after a few weeks."
As I talked with Gene that day, he told me that he had yet to accept any offers of help from the agency's food pantry.
He teared up a bit when he said, "I can still feed my kids. I don't want anyone else taking care of my kids."
I disagreed with Gene about his unwillingness to accept additional help, but as a father myself, I understood his point.
His income provided enough to maintain some expenses, but when there wasn't enough money to go round, food was the first item to get cut.
Gene was struggling to feed his children, so, feeding himself became his lowest priority. Lunch at the soup kitchen was his lone meal of the day.
This lunch discussion with Gene has remained a vivid reminder to me why the Foodbank – and the work we do – is so very important. Until things could right themselves, his family needed someone willing to help.
Photo: Feeding America
“Across the nation, families in need rely on soup kitchens for a hot meal"
Gene is just one example of the more than 57,100 people helped each week by the St. Louis Area Foodbank.
As for Gene, he did eventually accept help for his kids through our partner agency's pantry.
Fortunately, Gene ultimately got to a point where he no longer needed lunch from the soup kitchen. I was happy to know that Gene was able to get back on his feet.
But, I'm equally as happy knowing that should the need arise again, the soup kitchen remains open for lunch.
Matt Dace is the senior vice president at the St. Louis Area Foodbank.
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