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Topeka Rescue Mission

Topeka Rescue Mission Partners with Blue Cross / Blue Shield to feed the hungry

A pandemic affects everyone in some way, but the poor most of all. Many can’t get jobs or provide food for their families. Thankfully, there are programs that can help, such as the one at Topeka Rescue Mission.

The Topeka Rescue Mission (TRM) is partnering with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas to provide much-needed food resources for families in need across Northeast Kansas. The health insurer granted up to $350,000 to TRM’s Operation Food Secure (OFS) initiative. This funding is used to purchase nutritious staples so that hungry families do not have a gap in their food supply. OFS expected a pause in food resources when it looked as though funding for a federal covid relief program had run out.

Over the last half of 2020, OFS distributed 76,107 food boxes—the equivalent of 3.8 million meals—to families in the greater Topeka area facing hunger. This was made possible through the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program.

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Farmers to Families began last May, and was designed to support the agricultural supply chain, prevent food waste, and provide hunger relief. However, as 2020 came to a close, federal funding ran out, with little to no guarantee that the program would continue. Blue Cross and Blue Shield quickly responded to help keep families fed. USDA recently announced there would be a continuation of Farmers to Families, though reactivation is expected to take several weeks.

“COVID-19 has impacted the health, safety, and economic stability of Kansans, especially those in high-poverty neighborhoods,” said Virginia Barnes, director of Blue Health Initiatives, a part of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas. “We are thrilled that our support will go to ensuring our fellow Kansans have access to the healthy food that will directly address that impact.”

“Jesus tells us if we have faith like a grain of mustard seed, we can move mountains,” said Barry Feaker, Executive Director of the Topeka Rescue Mission. “When it seemed as though Farmers to Families was ending, our team looked at each other and said, ‘If God wants us to continue marching ahead, He will make it clear.’ And sure enough, with that mustard seed’s worth of faith, we saw mountains move.”

“We are inspired and grateful to Blue Cross and Blue Shield for making it possible to ensure that no one misses a meal during this gap,” said OFS Director Marissa Dake, “Good nutrition is the bedrock for mental and physical health. I can’t think of a better investment for our community.”

“Operation Food Secure distributed 2.3 million pounds of nutritious foods in 2020, but even more astounding is the fact that each food box has a name—a family—a story,” said Dake. “A parent facing reduced hours at work while trying to tele-school his kids; a senior citizen on a fixed income, struggling to afford basic necessities; a multi-generation family squeezing into a single home just to scrape by. Our volunteers have come to know the names and faces behind these stories and have not only gone ‘the last mile,’ but the extra mile to bring hope amid this pandemic. Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s generosity allows us to continue doing just that.

At the onset of the coronavirus crisis, the Topeka Rescue Mission (TRM) was invited to join a group of ministries across the nation who were seeking innovative ways to address hunger and food insecurity in the fallout of closures and shutdowns. TRM developed OFS and engaged the United Way of Greater Topeka and the City of Topeka, ultimately activating and leveraging over 90 civic, community, and faith-based organizations to work together and stabilize neighborhoods with food boxes from Farmers to Families. Each site provided food boxes filled with surplus products from farms across America, redirected from markets like restaurants, school cafeterias, stadiums, and other foodservice closures.

Feaker said the Topeka Rescue Mission is still committed to providing help and hope to those in need.

–Lee Hartman | Metro Voice

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