A Night To Remember For All At Benton County Food Pantry Ball

Anita Campbell
County Reporter
“An Evening To Remember”, an annual benefit for the Benton County Food Pantry, raised approximately $12,000 for the pantry on Saturday night at the Warsaw Knights of Columbus Hall.
Attendees enjoyed a prime rib along with a fun evening of visiting and an entertaining auction with Rick Renno and Rusty Johnson.  The meal was catered by the Warsaw Knights of Columbus.
“We had six tables the first year we held a benefit,” said Board President Debbie Swerline, “and this year we had 21 full tables.”
One of the highlights of the evening was a generous donation of $2,600 from Hawthorn Bank presented by Hawthorn President Chuck Allcorn.  The money had been raised by employees who sold candy and nuts throughout the year.
Another highlight was when the Friends of the Benton County Sheriff's Office  won the “Best Decorated Tables” at the special evening.  They were presented a special Decorating Trophy.
“We were very fortunate to have donations from many businesses in Warsaw, Sedalia and Clinton,” said Swerline. All the money raised goes to the Benton County Food Pantry, which provides food for approximately 1500 families per month.
"Most of our families are the working poor,” Swerline said.  “That means that the adults in the family are working but they aren’t making enough to feed their family all month.”
The Benton County Food Pantry receives most of the food they distribute from the Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri in Columbia.
“Last year we received over a million pounds of food from the Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri,” said Swerline.
The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri is a regional disaster and hunger relief network that acquires and distributes millions of pounds of food annually to partner agencies across a 32-county area.
A member of Feeding America, The Food Bank is able to work with manufacturers, wholesalers, processors, growers, retailers and restaurants to secure donations and food at reduced costs. Because of these partnerships, the Food Bank is able to turn every dollar into $21 worth of groceries. 
The Food Bank works with 132 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other agencies to ensure food gets into the hands of those who need it most.
“Since we receive most of the food from the Food Pantry many people ask why we need additional funds,” Swerline said. “But, of course, we still have to pay rent, the electric bill, gas for the truck and other expenses; however, no one working at the Benton County Food Pantry gets a pay check everyone who works there is a volunteer.”
Swerline commented that sometimes people who have been sentenced to serve Community Service come to work at the Food Pantry and many of them come back after their sentence is finished.
The Benton County Food Pantry is open Monday through Thursday from 9 until 12 and 1 until 3.  The Pantry is closed on Friday because that is the day volunteers travel to Columbia to pick up 16,000 pounds of food to distribute to those in need.
In order to qualify for food, a person simply has to provide proof of residence in Benton County.  Each household can pick up a load of groceries once a month; however, no one in need is ever turned away.
“We don’t give out special baskets for Thanksgiving or Christmas,” Swerline said.  “There are many other organizations that do that, instead we help families month by month.”
In addition to helping families, the Food Pantry also gives out 25 veteran’s food boxes every month.
“We are a pilot program for the veteran’s boxes as the money for those food boxes comes from private donations,” said Swerline
Swerline also commented that the Food Pantry also receives donations from Panera Bread, Pepsi and many other businesses. 
“One of our volunteers drives to Sedalia twice a week after Panera closes at 10 PM to pick up food that they did not sell that day,”   said Swerline.
“We even receive fish from area fishermen and venison during deer season,” Swerline said.
Senior adults are the fastest-growing group needing food assistance. Commodity Supplemental Food Program boxes provide nutritious food to help older individuals supplement their diets. Benton County Pantry provides 187 boxes each month to senior citizens in the county.
“Benton County has many retired senior citizens who thought that Social Security would be enough to take care of their needs in retirement but with the rising cost of prescription drugs, many retirees have to choose between food and their medicine,” Swerline said.  “We give out more senior boxes than any other county in the state.”  In order to qualify for a senior box, the person must be 60 years old and provide proof of residence in Benton County.
While most of the food distributed does come from the Food Bank, the Benton County Food Pantry also relies on the donations from local organizations and individuals.
 “We receive donations of food and money from area churches, organizations and businesses,” Swerline said.  “One church gives $100 each month which helps us with the expenses of keeping the Food Pantry open.”
For 35 years, Feeding America has responded to the hunger crisis in America by providing food to people in need through a nationwide network of food banks. 
The concept of food banking was developed by John van Hengel in Phoenix, AZ in the late 1960s. Van Hengel, a retired businessman, had been volunteering at a soup kitchen trying to find food to serve the hungry. One day, he met a desperate mother who regularly rummaged through grocery store garbage bins to find food for her children. She suggested that there should be a place where, instead of being thrown out, discarded food could be stored for people to pick up—similar to the way “banks” store money for future use. With that, an industry was born.
Van Hengel established St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix, AZ as the nation’s first food bank. In its initial year, van Hengel and his team of volunteers distributed 275,000 pounds of food to people in need. Word of the food bank’s success quickly spread, and states began to take note. By 1977, food banks had been established in 18 cities across the country.
As the number of food banks began to increase, van Hengel created a national organization for food banks and in 1979 he established Second Harvest, which was later called America’s Second Harvest the Nation’s Food Bank Network. In 2008, the network changed its name to Feeding America to better reflect the mission of the organization.
Today, Feeding America is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization—a powerful and efficient network of 200 food banks across the country. As food insecurity rates hold steady at the highest levels ever, the Feeding America network of food banks has risen to meet the need. We feed 46 million people at risk of hunger, including 12 million children and 7 million seniors.
The Benton County Food Pantry was established in 2001 then moved to their present location in 2007.
“We signed a year lease when we only had enough money for three months,” Swerline said.  “But we just stepped forward on faith to feed the hungry.”
The Food Pantry has also been able to give seed to people in the spring so they can grow their own fresh produce.  In return some of those same people bring in extra produce for the Food Pantry to distribute.
A USDA grant of $86,000 in 2011 allowed the Benton County Food Pantry to purchase commercial freezers and refrigerators, computers and a truck.
 “We always can use more volunteers,” Swerline said.  “Our Board is made up of volunteers who also work at the Food Pantry.  Everyone works whether it is unloading a truck, sorting through produce or helping someone pick out food for the month.  Whatever your talent, we can find a job for you.”
Jeannie Arnold is the Benton County Pantry manager.
“We all appreciate all the volunteers as well as the Knights of Columbus who not only catered the annual fund raiser but also work at the Food Pantry once a month,” Swerline said.
For more information visit the Benton County Food Pantry located at 121 Tower Drive in Warsaw or call 660-428-3500.