by Nancy Stiles
Last year, the health department shut down an organization that was giving out hot meals to homeless people. A lot has changed for Churches on the Streets since then. It has recieved nonprofit certification, is awaiting a health permit and is serving the hungry and homeless out of a food truck.
The change started with a front-page story in the Post-Dispatch. The story was picked up nationally, and organizer Angela Valdes got calls from big news organizations like the Huffington Post. The attention lead to an anonymous gift: Someone donated a 25-foot food truck.
Churches on the Streets meets every Monday night at 1400 North First Street and serves cold sandwiches to around 225 to 250 people, plus it hands out blankets and clothes. It doesn't have permission to serve hot food yet, but Valdes says they are close and the health department has been "really fantastic."
After the Post-Dispatch article, Churches on the Streets was approached by local pizzeria Fortel's about a partnership. Now, Fortel's donates and serves (hot!) pizza every other Monday at the 1400 North First Street location.
The program has been so successful that Churches on the Streets has expanded to Thursday nights; it takes pre-packaged cold meals (sandwiches, etc.) around Soldiers' Memorial.
"We're expanding outreach. Through the truck, we're able to mobilize in a greater way with more control," Valdes says. "[This month] we'll start going to parks where kids and families are out and about because there are other people that are hungry, too."
Churches on the Streets also does work with disaster relief -- it has been involved in helping Joplin residents since the devastating tornado -- as well as human trafficking. Valdes serves on the city's trafficking taskforce; the nonprofit is partnering with the St. Louis Rescue/Restore Coalition for a workshop this Thursday.
"We are expanding our reach, which means our resources are growing. We're always looking for people and restaurants to donate," Valdes says. "It's so amazing to see how many people care about those that are hungry and on the streets."