Fill The Van Fills Hearts & Shelves: Affton Christian Food Pantry

July 28, 2015 / Food Programs

“This is the first summer we haven’t had empty shelves.” –Jennifer Meehan, Executive Director, Affton Christian Food Pantry

Fifteen churches are collaborating to feed the hungry in our midst – and great things are happening. Affton Christian Food Pantry in Affton, MO is a collaborative effort between 15 churches who provide financial support, volunteers, food drives, and oversight by a volunteer board member from each church. AFCP serves families in the 63123 zip code – currently on the order of 850 individuals per month. In addition, they provide school aged children with a summer brown bag program that provides 10 breakfasts and lunches to each school-aged child every 2 weeks throughout the 12 weeks of summer break.

Like many similar organizations, the Food Pantry often struggled with inventory during the summer months when donations are lowest. But this year, the ministry has undertaken a creative effort to keep inventory – and church engagement – high.

During a January 2015 Asset Mapping session led by Send Me St. Louis, “Fill the Van” was born. Each week, one of the AFCP member churches hosts the van (pictured right) in their parking lot, competing with themselves to “fill the van” with donated food and household items.

The van has been filled – again and again and again. Since beginning the project in March 2015, AFCP has collected 10,000 material donation items and $700 of financial contributions.

Says Meehan, “We’ve never before had a summer that I wasn’t walking around looking at empty shelves. Across the board, we are significantly better than we’ve ever been. Last year, we were looking at a 40k deficit. Now we will either break even or have a small surplus. We’ve only spent 45% of our food budget, and there are only two months left in our budget year.”

The Fill the Van campaign wasn’t all. “Asset Mapping was a big turning point for our agency” said Meehan. In addition to Fill the Van, volunteers and board members have championed other ideas born from the session, including a weekend yard sale that netted $700 and a relationship with a local garden nursery, who donated all desiring food pantry participants with tomato plants to grow at home. In addition, churches are preparing to host complementary ministries for Food Pantry participants including a Children’s Christmas Shop where kids can select gifts for their parents and grandparents.
It can be easy for churches to be minimally engaged with those they donate to, but the Fill the Van campaign and Asset Mapping has allowed churches to take ownership and enthusiasm for their mission with ACFP.

If you would like to learn more about Affton Christian Food Pantry, click here!

If you would like to learn more about Asset Mapping or speak to Send Me St. Louis about creative ways to build engagement with your church and community partners, click here!