Wiping out hunger includes army of volunteers

The effort of eradicating hunger in DeSoto County and the greater Mississippi Delta region has enlisted an army of volunteers, who were recognized Wednesday during a special mini-grant awards luncheon at Fillin’ Station Grille.

“The Community Foundation acts as a connecting point for people who care and causes that matter,” said Tom Pittman, President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi. “There are a lot of people who care about having sources of good food.”

That’s the emphasis — good food — as in good, healthy, nutritious food.

Even though DeSoto County is a relatively affluent county, pockets of poverty and more importantly, so-called “food deserts” exist where access to fresh fruits and vegetables is limited.

Lessons learned from the recent 2017 Hunger Summit at Landers Center, which involved more than 140 participants, is that much food goes wasted in a county which has more food resources than most.

Connie James, Director of Heartland Hands, a Mid-South food distribution network based in Southaven, said hunger exists even in DeSoto County.

“We feed 600 families every month,” James said. “We help other agencies. Every day at Heartland Hands is like Christmas. We never know what is going to come in or go out. God has blessed us with an abundance of food. We provide food for House of Grace and Lighthouse Mission. If we are able to give House of Grace $1,000 a month in free food, that’s money they can spend on a lawyer, or to add a bedroom on to the shelter or to pay for an additional staff member.”

Lottie Minor and Bertie Taylor with Oak Hill Missionary Baptist Church are participating in a Hernando Matters Cooking Initiative, a collaboration with other churches promoting healthy cooking.

“A young single mother might not get the opportunity to cook a healthy meal,” said Taylor, adding that the alternative is to grab fast food, which is mostly highly processed, fattening and high in salt and sugar.

Rev. Willie Petty with the Society of St. Andrew and pastor of Jerusalem Baptist Church in Columbus, is the assistant coordinator for North Mississippi.

“We’re in all of Mississippi and all of Arkansas,” Petty said. “We’re feeding the hungry. People will call us and tell us they have extra potatoes and other vegetables and produce. We love to glean.”

Clara Petty, the pastor’s wife, said despite perception, hunger exists in North Mississippi.

“We see a lot,” Clara Petty said. “We started with our senior citizens. When we went out in the community, we began to see families. There were a lot of single mothers. We found there was a hunger for fresh fruit and produce. Some homeless families were able to be helped.”

Austin Avery, Executive Director of Fish N’ Loaves and Hungernomics.com web site, is seeking to end hunger in a revolutionary way.

Avery’s digital portal allows restaurants with unused servings of food to go directly to those in need with a carefully thought-out plan.

Natasha Reese with Fish N’ Loaves said the recent Hunger Summit will continue to pay dividends for years to come.

“It was great to see 140 people in the room who realized there is hunger in DeSoto County,” Reese said. “It was great to see the cooperation. A lot of time when you talk about DeSoto County, they say there is a perceived need but there is a real need. Fourteen and one-half percent of our population is food insecure.”

The Hunger Summit and follow-up program was organized by Anna Beeman, Director of Community Education with the Community Foundation and Executive Director of Volunteer Northwest Mississippi.

“Our organization along with 20 other organizations is working to end hunger in DeSoto County,” Beeman said. “We had more than 140 organizations represented.”