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How Good To Go is Tackling Food Insecurity in Springfield

A chance encounter with an old high school friend changes one woman’s life and has a ripple effect on the lives of countless others.

By Julie Sedenko Davis | Photos by Vivian Wheeler

Jan 2018

Photo by Vivian WheelerDenise Johnson, founder of Good To Go, wants to serve 140 meals every week in 2018.

Two decades had passed when Denise Johnson ran into her old high school friend. David wasn’t just an acquaintance. He had once been an integral part of her social group.  

Reconnecting with important people from the past is always significant. But, for Johnson, this encounter was life-changing. David was “unsheltered”—what some people call homeless. He’d been on the streets for 10 years. “We got to talking about how difficult it was at times to get a meal,” Johnson says. “I remember a statement he said word for word: ‘Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to walk 2 miles to get dinner.’” Immediately, Johnson thought, “What if the food came to you?” 

Johnson was already volunteering with the homeless, but her encounter with David made their plight personal. A take-action kind of person, Johnson says, “If you find a need in your community, instead of complaining, get up and do it.” That’s exactly what she did.

The first step in need-filling is always research. “That’s what led me to find the SoupMan, David Timothy,” Johnson says. Timothy is founder of SoupMobile, the Texas-based nonprofit that provided Johnson a framework of ideas. She began promoting the concept of a mobile soup kitchen on social media. “I just needed to get people who had a passion and some money they were willing to give,” she says. Between friends and churches, she had the seed money to get started. “I put together a small board and started serving meals,” she says. Good To Go Mobile Soup Kitchen was officially born.

good to go denise johnson

Whenever there was a need, Johnson posted on Facebook or sent out an email. People responded by ordering needed items on Amazon. 

“One day I came home from work and couldn’t even get in my front door,” she says. “The generosity of folks wanting to help, it was overwhelming.” 
In just one year Good To Go has grown to include a partnership with Bumble Bee Foods, Inc., a distribution site, a concession trailer and many volunteers. There’s also a major fundraising event every year called Singing for Their Supper. “We’re actually ahead of schedule,” Johnson says. “We weren’t thinking we’d have this done until the end of 2018.” Perhaps the biggest way Good To Go has grown is in the people it serves. Seventy percent of meals passed out are to children under the age of 12. “It used to be, ‘Find and feed the homeless,’” Johnson says. 
“Now it’s, ‘Find and feed the hungry.’ The food insecure.” Food insecure means there’s not readily available access to food because people can’t afford it or can’t get to it. “It’s a huge problem in Springfield,” Johnson says.
It’s harsh but true. A 40-year-old man can make the trip to get food. But, Johnson says, “If you’re 12 years old, and your mom is a meth head and strung out on the couch, you can’t go anywhere until you go to school and there’s free breakfast.” 
Every Thursday night, volunteers gather at Broadway United Methodist to pick up and deliver food. Meals aren’t fancy, but they provide basic food groups, are nonperishable, and are approved by the health department. They include a Bumble Bee tuna or chicken salad kit, applesauce cup, pudding and water or fruit juice. If more volunteers were available, Good To Go could add additional distribution. “We’d love to have people on call three to four nights a week,” Johnson says. 
Good To Go delivered around 6,000 meals in 2017. The organization’s goal for 2018 is 140 meals per week. “Food is a basic human need, and sharing it is the simplest way to show love,” Johnson says.

How to Help

Good To Go’s needs are year-round. Accepted donations are narrow because of government regulations and because the organization’s focus is solely providing meals to the homeless (not hygiene or other items). Donations to the nonprofit provide more meals because of its partnership with Bumble Bee Foods. Good To Go can purchase entire food kits for $1.10 (they retail for $2.45). Volunteers are also greatly needed. Go to gooutdogood.org and click on Ways to Give for more information.

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