Least of These celebrates 24th birthday of helping food insecure population in Christian County

Jessi HawkinsVolunteer Spotlight

Published: Feb. 9, 2022 at 6:04 PM CST|Updated: 16 hours ago
OZARK, Mo. (KY3) – Least of These, a food pantry for Christian County, had humble beginnings when it was started by a local church on February 9, 1998.

In the first month the non-profit organization was able to help seven families.

By the end of the year that total had grown to 100.

This past year 10,546 families in need of food used the services of Least of These with a record 1,992,840-pounds of food distributed, an 18 percent increase over 2020.

“It’s just exploded as far as the need is concerned,” said retiree Ed Vigneaux of Nixa, who’s been a volunteer at the Least of These for 12 years.

”I had three things I wanted to do when I retired,” he said as he finished up stocking some shelves at the organization’s warehouse in Ozark. “Play golf, fish and volunteer.”

And as to which one has been the most fulfilling?

“This one has,” he answered with a laugh. “I’m not that good a golfer.”

“We’ve grown tremendously because the need continues to grow,” said Least of These Executive Director Kristy Carter. “The food insecurity rate has recently gone up to 11.5 percent in the county. People may think it’s just a Greene County issue and that there’s not a hunger problem in Christian County. But when you sit around in a room of 10 people, one of them is fighting to figure out what they’re going to put on their tables and how they’re going to pay for their food.”

“Well over 20 percent of the county is under the poverty level as defined by the government,” Vigneaux added. “And as a Christian we’re called to serve. So that’s what I wanted to do.”

One key reason for the increase in families seeking help continues to be the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has just flipped everybody’s circumstances upside down,” said Andrea Hultgren, a three-year volunteer from Ozark. “If the food can help you get back on track with your finances, we would rather have that than you lose your home.”

Carter relayed the story of a woman who called on Wednesday and explained that some nieces and nephews as well as her parents had recently come to live at her home.

“She had a family of seven in one house,” Carter recalled. “She said, ‘I have four eggs and a half-gallon of milk and that’s all I have to feed my family.’ I told her to come on over and when we rolled the carts out to her car she just cried.”

“And you can’t help but cry too because they are so grateful,” Hultgren said. “You feel so blessed to be able to hand those groceries off to those people.”

Least of These relies on volunteers and donations to stay afloat. And during the pandemic they’ve had trouble getting the 50 volunteers they need to meet the high demand.

But those who are here say it’s worth it.

“We have a saying that we are blessed to be a blessing,” Vigneaux said.

“I can use my life as a way to bring life to other people,” Hultgren said. “That’s what life should be about, right?”

“Right now there’s a lot of division in our communities, a lot of hurt and a lot of things people are going through that we don’t even realize,” Carter pointed out. “So just being kind and reaching out and helping where you can is gonna make a huge difference.”

If you would like to donate to Least Of These you can go to their website at www.leastofthesefoodpantry.org/donate.  For every dollar donated Least of These can purchase $10 worth of food. You can also go to their website to fill out a form and become a volunteer.

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Volunteer Ozarks: Least of These