Missouri state employees have gone beyond their duties to ensure the health and safety of the state's most vulnerable citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Mike Parson and other area leaders said Tuesday.
"So many times, I've talked about teamwork since I became governor," Parson said. "We all work together to make a difference."
And he pointed out people representing the health care industry, departments of Health and Senior Services and Mental Health, the state's health centers, the Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri and others were gathered near him on the loading dock of the Mid-Missouri Samaritan Center in Jefferson City.
"Some of the most dedicated, hard-working state employees in the country are right here in our state," Parson said. "I appreciate so much being able to work with them every day."
Parson, state Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, state Rep. Dave Griffith, state Rep. Rudy Veit, Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin and others gathered to recognize state employees who had contributed to the ongoing success of the Missouri Primary Care Association over the past year and a half.
Founded in 1984, the MPCA advocates and supports community health centers. MPCA collaborates with state agencies to enhance the ability of its members to provide and expand comprehensive primary care services for health center clients, according to the MPCA website.
Situations changed daily over the past 15 months, Parson said. Without all of Missouri's departments, agencies, nonprofits and volunteers working together, the state would have failed, he said.
"Being able to get what we need from one another in this state is what's important. In time of need, we are all supposed to help one another," Parson said. "I don't think it's just government's place to be the one to take care of everything."
We share Christian values and help our neighbors, friends and state employees, he said.
The vast majority of Missouri's state employees were on the front lines in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. And health care providers couldn't stay home.
Volunteers at food banks across the state kept people fed, Parson said. And, at the worst of times, when food banks couldn't get volunteers, the state brought in the Missouri National Guard to help them because people still needed health care and food.
"I get to see the best of it every day. I get to see the future of our state," Parson said. "And, I guarantee, it's in good hands."
MPCA on Tuesday donated $5,000 to the food bank on behalf of 15 state employees from five departments and agencies who looked out for community health centers and their patients.
The state employees made certain health centers had access to COVID-19 testing and vaccines. They helped health centers prevent burnout among their employees.
"Our decision to contribute to the food bank was to highlight one of the most significant social determinants of health to those patients," Katie Richard, MPCA director of government affairs, said in an email to the News Tribune. "The MPCA chose the Samaritan Center as it is one of the distribution centers of the food bank, and provides additional services our (health center) patients so desperately need."
MPCA Chief Operating Officer Joe Pierle said Missouri state employees stepped up to meet the many extraordinary and unprecedented challenges they met since the beginning of the pandemic.
"We talked day and night - weekends - any time," Pierle said.
State employees played key roles in assuring health center patients - many of whom struggle and live in poverty - had timely access to testing and vaccines, preventing the spread of COVID-19, Pierle said.
"In my opinion, no doubt, you all helped save many lives," he said. "They helped us overcome daily obstacles. They assured that our health centers had the resources to keep their doors open, to provide these vital services."
MPCA paid it forward Tuesday by making the contribution to the food bank and by making a $1,000 contribution to the Samaritan Center, Pierle said.
"We believe that it's incumbent upon all of us to take care of our fellow neighbors," he said. "We want to work with you all to ensure that under-served Missourians have access to nutritious food."
Samaritan Center Operations Manager Ben DeFeo said the donation is much appreciated. He added it will likely be used to continue feeding hungry residents of eastern Jefferson City.
The Samaritan Center has a drive-thru pantry 10 a.m.-noon Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 3:30-5:30 p.m. Thursdays.
Samaritan Center administrators know people in the community are hungry, he said. It's frustrating community members have been inconsistent in visiting the food pantry, he said. Staff members at the Samaritan Center struggle to guess how much food they should have on hand.
However, other food pantries are facing the same challenges, DeFeo said. A food pantry from a nearby town recently donated food to the Samaritan Center so it could be distributed before it spoiled, he said.
Organizers hope to re-open the Samaritan Center building for services in July, DeFeo said.
It plans to re-open its medical clinic - possibly in August. Area doctors have indicated their willingness to staff the clinic, he said.