St. Louis World Food Day Commemoration – Powered by Partnerships

September 10, 2014

Laura Chauvin, on behalf of Outreach, Inc. & St. Louis World Food Day

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Meade

Don Soffer with parents Mary Beth and Allen. Courtesy, Laura Chauvin.

Don Soffer with parents Mary Beth and Allen. Courtesy, Laura Chauvin.

It was almost August when the Soffer family learned that St. Louis’ regional World Food Day Commemoration, planned for October 2012, had been canceled. Though more than 800,000 meals had been provided to children in Tanzania through the annual effort, the event was deemed untenable by new leadership at the non-profit which had created it. “Our son, Don, who had served as a volunteer for the event, learned of the cancellation and was disappointed – as were other dedicated teens,” says Mary Beth Soffer, a St. Louis attorney, who has passionately served in a variety of non-profit leadership roles. “We believed in his determination that the event, even if scaled back, should continue. There were hungry children half a world away in need and people right here willing to help. With the help of so many people, we stepped into the fray and we haven’t looked back.”

Amidst the confusion – was the event on or off…where could it be hosted…how could all that food be provided? – critical partners quickly came forward. The first was Iowa-based Outreach, Inc., one of the largest providers of humanitarian meal packaging efforts in the nation. Outreach had worked with the previous event host and assured the Soffers that it would stick with them as the details were sorted. “Outreach works with groups of all sizes – schools, places of worship, businesses – which are anxious to make a tangible and immediate difference through a community meal packaging of our nutritious ingredients. Though working with a single family to take on such a large task is unusual, we shared the Soffers’ commitment and wanted the event to continue,” says Matt Hamilton, Outreach’s Vice President for Operations.

Doug Pitt and STL Blues star Chris Pronger. Courtesy, Laura Chauvin.

Doug Pitt and STL Blues star Chris Pronger. Courtesy, Laura Chauvin.

Don Soffer’s high school, John Burroughs School, also quickly offered its support by providing its facilities for the packaging event and its experienced logistical team. “At the end of the day, Burroughs felt that if its students – and other students in the area – wanted to continue, they should help,” Mary Beth comments. A number of the event’s sponsors renewed their support and several new donors came forward, anxious to help.

Tanzania’s Goodwill Ambassador, Doug Pitt, agreed to serve as the event’s Honorary Chair. Not unfamiliar with the impact a family can make (he is the younger brother of actor Brad Pitt), Doug traveled to St. Louis, talking with media to drum up support and posing for countless pictures with the throngs who ultimately came. The 2012 event went off without a hitch, with nearly 300,000 meals packaged by the newly-named non-profit “St. Louis World Food Day” (www.stlwfd.org) and delivered by Outreach to a school feeding program in Tanzania. The 2013 packaging eclipsed the previous year’s meal total and meals were also prepared for those facing hunger in the greater St. Louis region, through a partnership with the local Feeding America organization. The 2014 Commemoration is set for Friday, October 10 – and once again the Soffer family and the Outreach team will be at the ready.

Matt Hamilton (right) assists a packing volunteer. Courtesy, Laura Chauvin.

Matt Hamilton (right) assists a packing volunteer. Courtesy, Laura Chauvin.

“It’s safe to say that we dove into this effort with little understanding of how it might turn out. We simply believed in our son and knew that Outreach and others would support us. Following the event, we were exhausted but uplifted knowing that a lot of hungry people will be less so and those who’ve helped understand how much good we can do together.” Though their son is now a college student, the Soffers will continue to organize the food-packaging event, bringing the St. Louis community together while working to alleviate hunger both locally and internationally.

To learn more, volunteer, or donate to the 2014 St. Louis World Food Day Commemoration, go to: www.stlwfd.org  To learn how to host your own meal packaging event for your school, group, or business, go to: www.outreachprogram.org.