The Rev. Melvin Stapp is fighting to make changes in a system that is politically and financially locked in a particular infrastructure that isn't set up to help families get badly needed food.
Stapp of Monark Southern Baptist Church of Neosho heads up a food distribution network that ranges from Chicago, Ill., to Memphis, Tenn., to parts of Oklahoma. Locally, food is delivered weekly to the church in Neosho. The church services a 10-county area, including north to Nevada, south to the Arkansas state line, and south of Monett, Stapp said.
He's at the hub of a Farmers to Families effort, meant to bring food to families who desperately need a hand up.
On the front line, Stapp sees the need firsthand. But the effort, thanks to political efforts, seems to be coming to an end.
"Food is the most political thing out there," he said. "This didn't start yesterday."
Stapp is quick to point out that there is some possibility that the Farmers to Families project might transition into a fith round of distribution, although he cannot have that fact totally verified. Though there could be another round in the works, Stapp is not certain of that. It does not change his plans.
"It is not in the stimulus bill," he said. "Our plans are still the same -- make sure we have another round."
Most importantly, Stapp wants McDonald and Newton county residents to fight for one supplier to bid to be part of the process, he said. That one main supplier will supply these two counties, he added.
The Farmers to Families effort is a project that taps suppliers and transports food to those who need it -- at no cost. Volunteers who help do not financially strap the distribution, he said. Locally, several volunteers from McDonald County drive up to Neosho, get the boxes of food and milk, and then bring them back for distribution at various spots.
Now, Stapp is using his efforts to try to entice politicians to bring back the effort.
Stapp said his understanding is that the plan ended on Dec. 31. The current stimulus package recently approved calls for communities to utilize food stamps online. Stapp believes pushing billions of dollars through the system to access food stamps through big retailers does not help the local grocery stores. Ultimately, it doesn't reach everyone who needs food, he said. "The bill they just passed won't carry us 90 days," he said, adding that a wide range of people need food daily to support their families.
This leg of the system pushed for round four, which extended the food distribution. But Stapp saw places like Memphis and Chicago, which were only approved for round three of the distribution.
"Memphis didn't get phase four and it's not a good picture," he said. "People are swamping food pantries."
The covid-19 pandemic has put a big crunch on families out of work, who have reduced hours, or are working to support their families but are really falling short.
Stapp is coordinating efforts for volunteers to put pressure on politicians to find a way to ship the food that's available. Local churches and nonprofits offer folks willing to help for free. Instead, the current system eliminates that free labor, and utilizes $20 million into a system that isn't working, he said.
Stapp and volunteers are making calls, pleading their case. Stapp also plans to hold several informative meetings in the future so local residents will be pointed in the right direction to help.
"We are on record as having one of the best models of food distribution," he said.
He wants to continue to tap that system, making sure McDonald and Newton county residents -- and many others -- are able to get the food they need.
"We're going to fight our way through the process," he said.
Anyone interested in learning about the informational meetings is encouraged to stay in contact with the food distribution points in McDonald County and also access Monark Southern Baptist Church on social media. News alerts will be posted and folks will be updated on methods to take action, he said.