Imagine having to choose whether to pay for electricity, heat, medicine, rent or food in order to survive. Many lake-area residents are faced with this dilemma each month.

Imagine having to choose whether to pay for electricity, heat, medicine, rent or food in order to survive. Many lake-area residents are faced with this dilemma each month.

According to the 2011 census, the population of Camden County is approximately 42,834 and 13 percent of those residents live in poverty. According to Feeding America, around 6,380 individuals in the lake area live with food insecurity and 2,270 children live without knowing where their next meal will come from.

A group of lake-area men who have been on the receiving end of charitable giving are now taking their past experiences and giving back to those in need.

Those men belong to a lake-area organization that offers transitional housing and other services. Now, they are expanding to offer a mobile food pantry in partnership with the Central and Northeast Missouri Food Bank once a month to do their part in addressing the hunger issues in this community.

"As the Lighthouse Mission continues to expand our outreach into the community, hosting a mobile food pantry is very exciting," Jeff Hall, Director of Lighthouse Mission said. "Addressing hunger issue is a huge part of our vision for expanding our community support services as we grow to meet the needs of men, women and children in Camden County."

The first mobile food pantry opened on Oct. 11. During the November pantry, 398 families were served. A total of 1,101 individuals were included in those families and 364 of them were children under the age of 18.

The mobile food pantry is not your average food pantry. Volunteers unload and set up the food. Recipients arrive hours before it opens to get in line. Once the food is ready and the pantry is officially open, volunteers visit each vehicle to sign in families and to find out what their needs.

For Program Coordinator Bob Willis, the chance to speak to those in need when they arrive is one of the most rewarding parts of the day.

"We are all about getting food out there," Willis said. "We are about relationships, not religion."

The Lighthouse Mission is a faith-based organization but would rather meet the community where they are rather than preach to them.

The mobile food pantry would not be possible without volunteers. Community members from various churches throughout the area have come out to help, even recipients have stepped out of their vehicles to lend a helping hand.

During one of the most recent food pantries, the line was so backed up that one of those waiting in line got out of their car and asked how they could help.

"It is a community effort," Willis said.

Willis also recalls some of the recipients digging in their pockets and handing over their last few dollars or coins. Of course, the mission does not want their money but it is the thought that brings tears of joy to the volunteers eyes seeing the impact they are making on the recipients.

For Willis, Hall and several men in leadership, this isn't a job. It's a calling. Many of them are products of the mission and now are giving back.

What started in a two bedroom cabin in Linn Creek in 2011 has turned into a mission located in two houses on 8.5 acres in Camdenton. Freedom through Christ Ministries can serve up to 20 men at a time and provide emergency bed space. The staff has partnered with local and state services within the community to get their clients the help they need.

The residents of Lighthouse Mission are required to attend recovery support groups and spiritual life skills groups. New Tribes Mission students also conduct a weekly Bible study every Thursday evening which even includes one-on-one discipleship time.

Willis describes the atmosphere around the mission as like a family. They eat together, study together, encourage one another and attend church together. The staff even live on site so they can be there whenever the residents need them.

Residents must apply to be a part of Lighthouse mission and must stay a minimum of six months. They must find a job and make a plan for their future.

The mission hopes to expand within the next few years. They are currently in discussion with the Missouri Department of Economic Development regarding developing a community center on their property which would include a permanent food pantry, large meeting space and a commercial kitchen. The center would allow the staff to offer more community resources, case management, recovery support and re-entry services to those in need.

The next mobile food pantry will be held 1 to 5 p.m. Dec. 13. For more information about the food pantry distribution or volunteering, contact Bob Willis at 573-286-1835 or visit

Lighthouse Mission is located at 20 Show Me Lane in Camdenton. From Highway 54, take Highway 5 South toward Lebanon, then turn right on Dry Hollow Road. Look for the Lighthouse Mission sign on the right.