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robinson’s ramblings

l BY JOHN ROBINSON

The House That Peggy Built

A passionate community leader hands over a wonderful legacy.

W

hat are you doin’ for Thanksgiving, Chuck?” It was a conversation that sticks with me, even though it happened more than 20 years ago. I was struggling as a writer, waiting tables at Glenn’s Cafe, surrounded by customers who were salivating as they awaited their meals. Chuck, a distributor, had just delivered his products that eventually would help quell the hunger of those happy campers in the dining room. “I’ll do what I always do,” Chuck said. “I’ll work in the serving line at Everett’s.” I knew what he meant. Every Thanksgiving Day, Everett’s Restaurant opened its doors to all comers, offering a free Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings. No money exchanged, no questions asked. Full bellies and fellowship. I was impressed. Week after week, this guy works to satisfy Columbia’s ravenous food and beverage needs. And on one of the most sacred holidays of the year, he doesn’t take the day off.

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INSIDE COLUMBIA NOVEMBER 2014

He knows they’re out there: the hungry. Even in Columbia. Even in secure, affluent Columbia with one of the state’s lowest unemployment rates. The late Almeta Crayton knew that, too. She worked tirelessly to make sure hungry children got a meal. So did Cindy Mustard, Columbia’s Voluntary Action Center chief who retired after providing maybe a million meals to the less fortunate. ’Tis the season to give thanks to the leaders and volunteers who make Columbia the best place in Missouri to live — leaders like Peggy Kirkpatrick. If the enthusiasm meter tops out at 10, Peggy is stuck on 11. But it takes more than enthusiasm to feed the hungry. To find and distribute more than 30 million pounds of food a year, Peggy punches more buttons and twists more dials than you’d find in the cockpit of a 747. And in a few weeks, she’s leaving her post as executive director of the Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri. That’s scary. She’s been a powerhouse in providing for the poor. How will the food bank fill the void? The good news is that she has

built a system that has the unstoppable momentum of the Crimson Tide. She’s leaving the blood sport of fundraising to devote more time to the ministry. Peggy is an ordained minister, and as such, joins Jim Spainhower and Jack Danforth as Missouri’s pre-eminent preacher politicians. Peggy is a politician? Yes, but first, get over your distaste for the word “politician.” If you have a family, if you have a boss or employees, if you attend church, you’re a politician, too — since politics is nothing more than the art of dealing with people. Anyway, I first met Peggy through a political campaign. And the meeting was daunting. The year was 1992. I’d just been hired to run Sen. Roger Wilson’s campaign for lieutenant governor, pending one last interview with a pair of Boone County bluebloods. One of them was Peggy. I was apprehensive, but I passed the audition. She was gracious and supportive. She knew that all political campaigns are studies in crisis management. Shortly after that meeting, Peggy announced that she was taking on a much bigger crisis — hunger — by taking the reins of the Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri. So she excused herself from one branch of politics to immerse in another. It’s hard to calculate the number of lives she has touched. During more than two decades, the food bank’s warehouse activity has grown to Walmartian proportions. When she began, the food bank was distributing 3.4 million pounds of food a year. Last year, the agency handed out more than 36 million pounds of food, a tenfold increase. And the streams of support have muscled up, too. The University of Missouri athletics department is a solid partner, for years trading tickets to the spring Black and Gold Game for canned

Inside Columbia Magazine November Issue