The City of West Plains, in cooperation with the West Plains Giving Tree group, will be removing the food pantry next to the People’s Park Pavilion due, in part, to an increase in vandalism and criminal activity at the pavilion.
The two groups, along with any interested organizations and churches in the area, will work together in hopes of finding a long-term solution for the food scarcity problem in the area. This could include finding a more suitable permanent location for a food pantry.
In 2016, the West Plains Giving Tree group installed the wood box to store food items to feed individuals and families in need. Over the years, the West Plains Parks Department, like the Police, have seen an increase in public safety concerns, with the box being frequently damaged and vandalized. The pavilion is now frequently tagged with graffiti, with many residents now fearful of using the pavilion for its intended purpose of a providing a safe gathering spot for families and groups.
“While we recognize there is a very real need for a food pantry in West Plains, the amount of vandalism and suspicious activity we are seeing at the pavilion warrants removal of the pantry,” said West Plains Police Chief Stephen Monticelli, who cited the pantry’s location in a public park frequented by children and families as “problematic.”
Food Scarcity in West Plains
The decision to remove the pantry was not easy to make due to the City’s concerns associated with food scarcity.
According to The University of Missouri Hunger Atlas, food insecurity is ‘very high’ for southern Missouri, including Howell County.
According to the report, one in six children in Missouri live in food insecure households. The United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.
In Howell County, 22.3% of children under 18 years old live with food insecurity, which is 5% higher than the state average.
“I’d like to thank the organizers of the Giving Tree for bringing attention to a serious issue in Howell County, as well as our citizens who have supported the Giving Tree over the years by donating items,” said City Administrator Sam Anselm. “I think that spirit of giving will continue as we work together as a community to develop a long-term solution to our food insecurity issues.”