Advocate for St. Louis Area Foodbank brings resources back to her alma mater

Lenora Gooden

Lenora Gooden, a 2010 sociology graduate, helps UMSL battle food insecurity by facilitating donations from the St. Louis Area Foodbank, where she serves as vice president of operations. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Lenora Gooden finds profound meaning in the four words that make up the motto of the St. Louis Area Foodbank.

“Fighting hunger, feeding hope” fuels her efforts as the organization’s vice president of operations.

“That ‘feeding hope’ part, that’s the part I love: giving someone hope,” Gooden said. “Sometimes, you just don’t know how much that does for people, lifting up their spirits so they can move forward to make a better life for themselves.”

Gooden started at the St. Louis Area Foodbank in 1996 as an administrative assistant. She worked her way up to vice president of product sourcing, a title she held for 15 years before stepping into her new role in July. As vice president of operations, she oversees agency compliance, the warehouse, distribution and product sourcing for the foodbank, which collected and provided more than 43 million pounds of food for those in need last year.

Along the way, she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in criminology from the University of Missouri–St. Louis in 2010.

“I always wanted to study why people do the things that they do, and that’s what drove me toward the sociology degree,” Gooden said. “Once I came and visited UMSL, just like the foodbank, my heart stayed there.”

Over the past year, Gooden focused her attention on lending a helping hand at her alma mater. She had a conversation with an exceptional student worker at the UMSL Triton Telefund call center and, as a result, started seeking ways to give back.

She connected with Associate Director of Development Katy Robertson, a member of the Triton Hunger Relief Task Force, who suggested Gooden team up with Associate Director of Student Social Services Robin Kimberlin.

Kimberlin was heading up an effort to battle food insecurity among members of the UMSL community, a problem that affected around half of the university’s student population, according to a 2017 survey.

Gooden was more than willing to throw the weight of the foodbank behind UMSL’s initiatives.

“That was such a random coincidence of stars aligning,” Kimberlin said. “She’s making big things happen for us.”

The foodbank provided 3,400 pounds of food for a pop-up pantry at the Millennium Student Center in August. In September, UMSL and the foodbank partnered again for the Triton Mobile Pantry in which students, faculty and staff – as well as people from the surrounding community – could partake in the free service on South Campus.

“My favorite part of the job is knowing that we provided food for anyone who’s food insecure, that they didn’t have to wonder where their next meal was going to be,” Gooden said. “It’s going into a community and seeing where that help was needed, the smiles on their faces, hearing the stories of people who didn’t know what they were going to do, but then we allowed options for them.”

This story was originally published in the fall 2018 issue of UMSL Magazine. If you have a story idea for UMSL Magazine, email magazine@umsl.edu.

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