40 Facts for the Hunger Informed
Operation Food Search is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year!
And since you’re on this journey with us, we hope you’ll enjoy learning some things you might not know about food insecurity and our work to heal hunger.
What’s the difference between food insecurity and hunger?
Food insecurity is lack of access to adequate food because of limited money or other resources and can lead to the physical condition of hunger.
How Many People Are Food Insecure?
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many as 19% of Missourians were food insecure. With additional hunger relief funding and food provided by the government and other entities, the rate has leveled back to what it was before, which is about 14.2%, or 1 in 7 people. Unfortunately, children continue to be more vulnerable, with 1 in 6 children in our area at risk of hunger.
OFS is an independent, “rescue” food bank.
We rescue excess food donated by grocery stores, manufacturers and distributors; we collect food through food drives; and we even harvest food from farms that would otherwise have been wasted.
Food insecurity in children can have long-term effects.
These can include impaired cognitive development and toxic levels of stress, trauma and fear. The long-lasting impact of child hunger on well being is one of the reasons OFS puts an emphasis on helping kids through our child nutrition programs.
Two-thirds of SNAP benefits go to households with children
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, provides low-income families with money to purchase food each month. 46 million Americans rely on SNAP benefits to buy food each month, according to the USDA.
Total healthcare cost of hunger and food insecurity is $160 billion a year.
America’s hunger bill is much greater than we may realize, affecting educational outcomes, labor productivity, crime rates, Gross Domestic Product and much more.
Discover more about the cost of hunger.
Summer meal programs can be hard to find.
To help, we share information about a free texting service run by No Kid Hungry that helps families find meals in their neighborhoods. Text the word “FOOD” to 877-877 to see all the nearby options.
OFS distributes food through our network of hundreds of partners.
Our 330 community partners are located in 42 Missouri and Illinois counties. They are key to our ability to provide food and services to 200,000 people each month.
Among food insecure households with children, 85% have at least one working adult.
Even before the pandemic, the income generated by work was not sufficient to protect working families from food insecurity. Now, in spite of government assistance, people are struggling to catch up as a result of unemployment, utility bills, health care costs and numerous other factors.
Food insecurity can lead to obesity because of the dependency on food with low nutritional value.
People experiencing hunger and food insecurity can be especially vulnerable to obesity because of the unique challenges they often face in adopting and maintaining healthy behaviors, including:
• Limited resources
• Lack of access to healthy, affordable foods
• Cycles of food deprivation and overeating
• High levels of stress, anxiety, and depression
• Fewer opportunities for physical activity
• Greater exposure to marketing of obesity-promoting products
• Limited access to health care
Learn more about the effects of food insecurity.
People who live in rural areas often face hunger at higher rates than people who live in urban areas.
Living in a rural community comes with unique challenges. This includes a lack of transportation when the nearest grocery store, food pantry, or food bank is potentially hours away, job opportunities that are more concentrated in low-wage industries, and higher rates of unemployment and underemployment.
Read more about food insecurity in rural areas.
Early childhood brain development can be disrupted by poor nutrition, leading to increased hospitalizations and medical bills.
The first three years, and the prenatal period, set the stage for the rest of a person’s life. Children are the most vulnerable to stress and damage that can result from food insecurity and hunger during that time.
Learn more about hunger’s effects on childhood development.
Social and environmental factors are some of the root causes of food insecurity.
Education, employment, safety, air quality and access to healthy food make up 20% of the impact on health. Family history/genetics make up 30%. Individual behavior accounts for 40%, and access to quality health care 10%.
Explore the factors of food insecurity.
Two-thirds of people facing hunger have incomes above the federal poverty line.
In 2020, more than 38 million people faced hunger in the United States, including more than 12 million children. 34 million people lived in poverty in America. For a family of four, that means earning just $25,000 per year.
Learn more about poverty and hunger.
Even moderate food insecurity can impact child health.
“After multiple risk factors are considered, children who live in households that are food insecure, even at the lowest levels, are likely to be sick more often, recover from illness more slowly, and be hospitalized more frequently. Lack of adequate healthy food can impair a child’s ability to concentrate and perform well in school and is linked to higher levels of behavioral and emotional problems from preschool through adolescence.” — American Academy of Pediatrics’ Policy Statement, Promoting Food Security for All Children
Explore the ways food insecurity can impact child health.
Food deserts exist throughout our region.
A food desert is a geographic area where residents have little or no convenient option for affordable and healthy foods. Food deserts can be found in both rural and urban areas.
“Food deserts create extra, everyday hurdles that can make it harder for kids, families and communities to grow healthy and strong.” – Annie E. Casey Foundation
The Columbia Missourian says there are more than 100 food deserts throughout the state.
Learn more about food deserts.
Does Operation Food Search accept home-prepared food?
While we cannot accept food that is prepared at home, we do accept leftover food from catered events prepared in a commercial kitchen. Proper temperature of food is required (refrigerated or frozen).
Non-perishable donations can be dropped off 24 hours a day in the white donation bin outside our warehouse at 1644 Lotsie Blvd. in St. Louis, MO.
Perishable donations, such as produce, can be dropped off at our warehouse Monday through Friday from 12 to 4 p.m.
Click here for our list of most-needed items.
Do people receive food at the Operation Food Search warehouse?
OFS is a food bank rather than a food pantry, so we do not give food directly to individuals at our warehouse. We collect, safely store and distribute millions of pounds of food to nearly 200 pantries, shelters and other community sites, which then pass the food directly to the people they serve.
We also get food directly to schools and other organizations for distribution to their communities. We use a drive-through distribution model facilitated by partners, such as the St. Louis County Library, the Urban League, Beyond Housing and more.
If you or someone you know is hungry, contact our 24-hour hunger hotline at (314) 726-5355 to receive immediate food assistance through our partner agencies or check our find food map.
How is Operation Food Search funded?
Individuals, corporations, foundations and organizations all provide financial support. OFS is certified and accredited for its accountability, transparency and adherence to strong and comprehensive industry standards. All financials are available on our website.
We are working on the problem of hunger through immediate food assistance and long-term solutions. Whether you give once, monthly or via the numerous options available, your support not only ensures that your neighbors have enough to eat today; it enables us to address the underlying causes of food insecurity through innovative programs, advocacy and education.
If you would like to join our community of supporters, please visit our Donation page for more information and to make a tax-deductible gift.
Volunteers are essential to our success.
Operation Food Search relies on thousands of dedicated volunteers every year. These caring people help sort food, pack family meal kits, prepare backpacks for distribution, assist in our office and work at our events and meal distributions. In 2021, more than 3,000 volunteers devoted 76,000 hours to OFS, saving us more than $2 million. The money saved helps us sustain many of our free programs. We could not do the work we do without this community of care.
Visit our volunteer page to find out more.
How do people get food assistance if they are hungry?
There are three ways to find food quickly and efficiently.
• View our map
for food pantry locations near you.
• Call our Hunger Hotline at 314-726-5355 x1.
• Text your zip code to 785-503-3310 for places to access food assistance.
We have a database of more than 150 food assistance locations. Please call the location prior to visiting to confirm when they are open and discuss what you might need to bring with you.
Visit our site for additional community resources.
Food insecurity can lead to chronic disease and increased medical costs.
“On average, food-insecure individuals have higher overall healthcare costs when compared to food-secure individuals,” says Feeding America.
These costs are often due to chronic diseases associated with food insecurity. According to a Feeding America report, those who experience food insecurity have higher associations of chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, depression, kidney disease and hypertension.
Our innovative programs, such as Fresh Rx, approach food as medicine and are designed to address long-term solutions to hunger and improve the overall health of individuals and communities.
Learn more about food insecurity and increased medical costs.
What kind of food is donated to OFS?
OFS collects food that is both perishable and non-perishable from large grocery partners, farms, businesses and individuals. It is a true win-win situation for everyone involved because it is food that would otherwise go to waste.
People who face food insecurity also often suffer from chronic illnesses like obesity and diabetes due to the quality of food available. Our team of expert nutritionists has created guidelines to help donors choose nutrient-dense foods that are both delicious and healthy.
In 2021, OFS distributed more than $33 million worth of food. Individual food drives account for $1 million worth of food donations each year!
Learn more about food donations.
How is OFS helping children with diabetes?
People living in food-insecure households are 50% more likely to develop diabetes than those with food security. Fresh Rx: Prescribing Healthy Futures is a food prescription program that connects families with a child with diabetes to fresh, tasty food and family resources. These resources include family meal kits, cooking support and diabetes education.
Our pilot program, in partnership with St. Louis Children’s Hospital, seeks to lower Hemoglobin A1C levels and decrease episodes of diabetic ketoacidosis.
Breakfast remains the most important meal of the day
Children who live in households that struggle with hunger rely on school meals to get them through the day, making school breakfast and lunch programs vital to student and school success. OFS works to increase the number of kids who eat breakfast by supporting innovative models like Breakfast After the Bell.
Breakfast After the Bell improves the traditional school breakfast by changing the location and time. Rather than being offered in the cafeteria before school starts, breakfast is moved into classrooms, where students are more likely to have the opportunity to eat. Teachers report that having students eat breakfast together improves their interactions.
Our vision is that every child, regardless of family income, is ready to start the school day with a nutritious breakfast.
Learn more about school breakfast
Momvocates – Real Moms, Real Action
Momvocates are champions for health and nutrition safety net programs within Operation Food Search and in the state of Missouri. The women use their voices to increase understanding among lawmakers about food insecurity and advocate for policies that improve health and food access. Momvocates seek to build a healthier future for all families through advocacy and policy change.
Our inaugural cohort of Momvocates includes graduates of our Fresh Rx: Nourishing Healthy Starts program.
What are Social Determinants of Health?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Social Determinants of Health are conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. They are the non-medical factors that affect health outcomes.
Food insecurity is a key social determinant of health and has a major impact on health outcomes.
Learn more about Social Determinants of Health.
Food and support for pregnant women
Food insecurity during pregnancy has significant long-term health impacts on moms and babies. Mothers have greater risk of chronic conditions and complications during pregnancy, and infants are more likely to be born early and underweight.
Fresh Rx: Nourishing Healthy Starts is a food prescription program that connects low-income women to fresh food and supportive services. The goal is to improve birth outcomes and empower families to cultivate a healthy household, while also making the case for food as a reimbursable health care expense.
Gleaning–what is it?
Gleaning is rescuing fresh food from farms that would otherwise be unharvested or wasted. Produce gathered in the fields or picked up after the harvest is quickly distributed to food-insecure individuals. Last year, we rescued 21,856 lbs. of produce from farms.
Our Gleaning program relies on the help of volunteers. If you like spending time outdoors, you might want to consider gleaning with us. View volunteer opportunities on our website.
Learn More about the benefits of gleaning
Our Summer Meals program helps kids hit their summer stride.
OFS has been a sponsor of the Summer Food Service Program, funded by the USDA, for ten years now. The program ensures that children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session. Kids are more at risk for hunger when school is out, and this program provides a crucial link to nutrition normally provided at schools.
Due to the pandemic, we extended our Summer Meals program and were able to expand our reach to other family members as well. OFS provided more than 843,000 “summer” meals from Oct. 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2021.
Learn more about Summer Meals.
What is Operation Backpack?
The Operation Backpack program provides weekly sacks of kid-friendly, shelf-stable food so students have access to food when school meals are not available. Participating children are discreetly given the food to take home at the end of the school week, enabling them to return to school. Monday with the good nutrition and focus needed for academic success.
OFS began Operation Backpack in 2008. Last year, we distributed more than 589,000 meals to students in 338 schools in 15 different counties.
Learn more about Operation Backpack.
Healthy Eating Resources videos help you cook on a budget.
OFS partnered with SSM Health DePaul Hospital to create a series of videos to share information about healthy food choices with people who may be food insecure, working to make healthy choices on a budget or are interested in improving health through diet.
The video topics range from building kitchen skills to incorporating “hidden” vegetables to and learning to shop for affordable produce.
What is the SNAP Gap?
Known as SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is based on household income. But benefits to help low-income individuals and families purchase food often fall short of the amount it actually costs to put food on the table. The SNAP Gap refers to both this gap, as well as the gap between the number of people who are eligible for the benefits, and the amount that actually receive them. Often, the program is difficult to access and use, making it necessary for families to rely on other forms of food assistance, such as visiting a pantry.
Learn more about the SNAP Gap.
All About Operation CHEF (Culinary Habits to Empower Families.)
Our nutrition-focused cooking course teaches kids, teens, adults and families at risk of hunger fundamental culinary skills through hands-on lessons. With nutrition education woven into the recipes, discussions and activities, the program presents good nutrition as accessible, fun and delicious.
Operation CHEF falls under OFS’s pillar Build Nutrition IQ, which empowers individuals to eat healthy, delicious food on a budget.
Learn more about Operation CHEF.
How to Repurpose for a Purpose
Through our unique program, businesses can dispose of assets and materials while generating revenue to support OFS’s hunger relief work. OFS connects businesses to our trusted partners, who are committed to philanthropy and social responsibility. They help businesses dispose of unwanted equipment and furniture, diverting them from the landfill and creating a donation that literally puts food on the table for food-insecure families in the region.
Learn more about Repurpose for a Purpose.
A food drive alternative – Care Kits
A great way to help Operation Food Search and enjoy an engaging activity with friends, family or colleagues is to create Care Kits. These collections of food and other items are tailored for families, seniors and students. Complete instructions for kits like the Cooking Starter Kit or Student in Transition Kit are available on our website.
Whether you pack one care kits or 100, we will always happily receive them at our warehouse. They are a great way to support our mission!
Learn more about Care Kits.
WIC Innovation Project
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) has been shown to improve birth outcomes, improve diet and nutrition and decrease healthcare costs overall. However, participation in the program is declining in Missouri. The WIC Innovation Project involves OFS learning from all WIC stakeholders and advocates to create a program that works better for everyone.
Learn how you can get involved in the WIC Innovation Project.
What is the difference between a food bank and food pantry?
OFS is a food bank, which is a large operation that sources food, safely stores it and distributes it to partner agencies—including pantries, community kitchens and shelters. Pantries are much smaller than food banks, and they give food directly to community members. They are largely volunteer-run and require great dedication to the people they serve.