Difficult situations often bring out the best in people, and that certainly can be said of those who work for the metro area’s many generous nonprofits. T&S talked with two organizations that are providing extra help to fill the needs of vulnerable St. Louisans during these uncertain times.
When entrepreneur Andrew Glantz was developing his socially conscious food donation app, GiftAMeal, in 2015, he knew it would need to be flexible to adapt to changing community needs. He was a student at Wash. U. then, and by the time he graduated in 2017, his nonprofit already had provided 30,000 free meals to St. Louisans in need through the local nonprofit Operation Food Search (OFS).
This year, the young CEO says his program has evolved to serve people affected by the COVID-19 crisis, and it has contributed funding for hundreds of thousands of meals to date—about half a million pounds of food.
Before restaurants stopped dine-in service due to the outbreak, notices at tables of participating eateries could be seen around town, showing diners how to help the hungry through Glantz’s nonprofit. You simply downloaded the free app, snapped a picture of your meal and uploaded it to GiftAMeal, which then made a contribution to OFS.
In the current crisis, diners still can help by photographing their takeout food, delivery meals and gift cards purchased from participating restaurants, according to Glantz. “The need definitely has increased in the last couple of weeks,” he explains. “To help out even more, we recently held a $5,000 matching donation challenge, and people really stepped up. We ended up receiving three times our goal from individuals and businesses. With GiftAMeal’s matching $5,000, it added up to a $20,000 donation to OFS.” That total will be enough to provide 8,000 family meal kits for locals in need.
Glantz says children who have lost access to school meals and elderly residents are especially vulnerable right now, so he is working to stay in touch with their needs. GiftAMeal also is working on new ideas to drive business to its partner restaurants and help them stay open. “Even though times are tough, restaurants have called to ask how they can donate extra food, and other people have offered great ideas as well,” Glantz says. “The program has exceeded our goals to date, but we know there will always be more St. Louisans who need our help, so there’s much more work to do. It’s challenging to ask people to give even more at a time like this, but it’s encouraging to see how St. Louisans are coming together to help their neighbors. I personally look through the pictures diners upload every day, and it keeps me inspired to think of new ways we can help.”
For more information, visit giftameal.com or download the GiftAMeal app.
Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis
CEO Michael McMillan says events like COVID-19 tend to place greater numbers of people in survival mode, so nonprofits have to adapt as the situation demands. “We have been serving St. Louisans for more than 100 years, but lately we have seen a dramatic increase in the need for food, baby formula, diapers, utility assistance and more,” he says. “We realized that our normal methods of getting services to people wouldn’t be enough, so we have created large-scale distribution events to support the community in this difficult time.”
The organization has put together several of these events around St. Louis, giving out more than $200,000 worth of food, toiletries, masks, hand sanitizer and other products to date. “We have an enormous number of staff and volunteers assembling boxes that include dry goods and staples, fruit, vegetables, milk, eggs, packaged foods and more,” McMillan says. “We’ve seen a lot of growth as word has gotten around. Our first event served about 1,075 people, and at the fifth one, we had about 2,800.”
He says the organization is continually ramping up its efforts to ensure everyone who needs help can receive it. Corporate and nonprofit partners from all over the area have been donating the goods for distribution. “We plan to do this for the foreseeable future,” McMillan says. “We view the effort as a marathon, not a sprint. Millions of Americans are having to file for unemployment, and we want to continue to meet the needs of residents we serve in Missouri and Illinois. As the situation unfolds, we’ll have to be able to pivot in different directions to help with rent, mortgage payments, utilities and other bills. We also are working with seniors and disabled residents to meet their needs.”
McMillan says the effort has been a major undertaking, but the Urban League is committed to its role as an ongoing resource. “People are incredibly grateful for the support, and the generosity of our donors, partners and volunteers has been amazing,” he notes. “We estimate that about 75% of the individuals who come to our events never had to line up for assistance before. It’s an unprecedented situation, but we are dedicated to helping the community get through it.”
For information on donating or volunteering with the Urban League, visit ulstl.com or call 314.615.3600.
Pictured at top: The GiftAMeal smartphone app and an Urban League food distribution event.
Photos courtesy of GiftAMeal and Urban League