ST. LOUIS COUNTY — Almost 40,000 eggs. About 6,600 cans of corn and green beans. At least 13,000 light bulbs.
Those items were among an estimated $200,000 worth of food, toiletries and other supplies distributed Saturday at the old Jamestown Mall. For more than three hours, vehicles crawled through the former mall’s parking lots for the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis‘ seventh large-scale food giveaway since early April.
Saturday’s was the biggest event yet as the need grows across the region amid the coronavirus pandemic, Urban League President Michael McMillan said. Thankfully, he said, so have the donations.
“It’s because of an amazing show of generosity from the whole St. Louis community,” he said.
McMillan estimated about 17,000 families have received goods valued at a total of about $800,000 since the giveaways began. Since the first event, April 2 in Jennings, the nonprofit has held weekly events: twice at its North Side Community Empowerment Center in St. Louis, once at East St. Louis High School, once at the Alton Farmers Market and now twice at the old Jamestown Mall site.
For hours Saturday, more than 250 volunteers in fluorescent yellow T-shirts packed food boxes and and piled them atop palettes as cars drove through to collect. The work made it difficult for volunteers to practice social distancing, but many wore masks while loading boxes into car trunks.
Each box held canned corn and green beans, cereal, coffee, rice, either oatmeal, grits or pancake mix, fresh collard greens, celery, onions, sweet potatoes, apples, oranges, a dozen eggs, milk, orange juice and cheese slices.
Non-food items in each box included a four-pack of energy-efficient light bulbs, a personal protective equipment kit of gloves and two face masks, and instructions on wearing the masks properly.
Dozens of St. Louis County police officers directed traffic, and members of the Missouri National Guard helped distribute and transport food.
Last week, St. Louis County announced five organizations that provide food would receive $2.6 million in federal coronavirus relief money. The Urban League is getting $500,000 to conduct seven distribution events for needy families at the former Jamestown Mall through August, and to distribute food and toiletries to seniors and disabled people through December.
Last week’s giveaway in St. Louis was so packed that after giving away goods to nearly 3,000 vehicles, organizers were forced to turn away about 350 more when supplies ran out. Next Saturday’s food giveaway is scheduled to take place at the Urban League’s city site, 1330 Aubert Avenue.
The Urban League buys from local food banks and food service companies or relies on food or monetary donations from corporate sponsors and others.
Volunteer Reid Chunn, 23, of Spanish Lake, said his faith drives him to serve the community.
“It brings me joy to serve,” said Chunn, a senior at Harris-Stowe State University. “I do this to help as many people as I can.”
Leola Gladney, 48, a single parent of three from Dellwood, collected two boxes— one for her family and one for her disabled mother, who suffered a stroke. Gladney said she recently left her marketing job at Maritz because of health problems, is awaiting a major back surgery, and is relying on relatives to pay bills.
“It’s a constant battle,” she said. “If this wasn’t available, I don’t know what I’d do.”
After volunteers helped her load the boxes into her car trunk, she turned and thanked them personally.
“Thank you for everything you guys are doing,” she told them. “It means a lot.”