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Holiday pantry drive kicks off

THE DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Avie Collins (from left), Geneva Smith, Ruby Poole and Nathaniel McCray volunteer their services to assist the Greater Hope Foundation's food pantry this holiday season. Greater Hope Foundation is just one of the local agencies that benefit from the annual Daily Leader and Bank of Brookhaven Holiday Food Pantry drive.

THE DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Avie Collins (from left), Geneva Smith, Ruby Poole and Nathaniel McCray volunteer their services to assist the Greater Hope Foundation’s food pantry this holiday season. Greater Hope Foundation is just one of the local agencies that benefit from the annual Daily Leader and Bank of Brookhaven Holiday Food Pantry drive.

To kick off the annual drive, Bank of Brookhaven Vice President Shannon Aker (from left) and Daily Leader Publisher Otis Raybon display the first official donation to the drive, a $200 check from the bank. The Daily Leader is matching the opening contribution.

Now in its 10th year, The Daily Leader and Bank of Brookhaven Holiday Food Pantry officially kicks off today.

A decade after the yearly drives first began, the need for the annual contributions could not be any more timely, according to representatives of food pantries in the area.

This year, the holiday drive’s recipient ministries and non-profits include the St. Francis of Assisi/St. Vincent de Paul, Union Hall Baptist Church, St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church and the Greater Hope Foundation. All of the organizations share a common goal of providing food pantry services to those in need in the local community

“The donations that come in from the pantry drive have been a blessing for community members who really need it,” said Flora Kelly, food pantry director for the Greater Hope Foundation. “Around the holiday season, we see an increase in the number of families, or individuals, that truly need help.”

The sentiment that it is greater to give than receive seems to be a prevalent one in the local community, according to Bank of Brookhaven Vice President Shannon Aker. “I have been blown away by the number of people that have been asking about this year’s drive and inquiring about how they can contribute to it,” Aker said.

Monday, acting on behalf of the bank, Aker donated $200 to mark an official beginning to the donation drive, which was matched by publisher Otis Raybon on behalf of The Daily Leader.

“From what I’ve seen from the citizens of Brookhaven, this is a very caring, giving community,” Raybon said as he helped Aker start this year’s food pantry drive.

“This community has always fulfilled their obligation toward the Holiday Food Pantry and helped provide for the most needy members of our community,” Raybon continued.

Greater Hope’s Kelly, who has been involved in outreach efforts for more than 60 years, stressed how important local residents’ contributions to the food pantry drive are to those who are less fortunate.

“Some of the stories are heartbreaking regarding the dire need that people have for food,” Kelly said, “but the great thing is that at the end of the day, you know you’ve seriously helped out someone.”

Kelly continued, “Most of the food in our pantry is delivered to the elderly, who happen to be in bad health. These are elderly members of the community that have a very real need. After paying for normal bills – such as power and water, many simply do not have money left over for food. The Holiday Food Pantry donations help out greatly.”

Since its beginning 10 years ago, The Daily Leader/Bank of Brookhaven Holiday Food Pantry drive remains a partnership between the two businesses and the community, as citizens are invited to contribute to the pantry fund.

Over the years, the drive has seen a steady increase in community participation and donor dollars. Last year saw $9,200 raised through the program.

The funds, in turn, have been a godsend to the community, said Sue Smith, assistant director of the food pantry at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church.

“You’d be surprised at the number of people who need help. Most of us rarely have to worry about food, or not having it over a long stretch of time. But there are many, many people out there – here in Lincoln County, that really need the service.”

Smith continues, “As the holiday season approaches, the percentage of folks that express need of food services increases anywhere from 30 to 40 percent.”

Floretta Williams, director of the Greater Hope Foundation, is moved to tears when she talks about the significance of giving. To Williams, it’s not an academic, or even seasonal, objective. It is something one can do every day of the year.

“My husband and I really talked about traveling a lot during retirement, or relaxing at home,” Williams said. “But the greatest thing we have done is to continue to help others. This is something that anyone can do on a daily basis. We have both come to find that there is little time to rest.”

To Aker, the Holiday Food Pantry is becoming part of the fabric of Brookhaven and reflects some of the more positive elements of the community.

“It’s a tradition. I am hopeful it continues for another 20 years at least,” he said.

The Daily Leader will be accepting donations, which can be mailed to P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602. Donations also will be accepted at the newspaper office front desk as well. Anonymous donations will be accepted as well. Donations to the Holiday Food Pantry will be listed in The Daily Leader as they come in.

Contributions to the Holiday Food Pantry also can be mailed to the bank, given to the bank cashiers or donated through the drive-through windows, said Aker.

The Holiday Food Pantry drive will conclude at 5 p.m., Friday, Dec. 13, so the funds raised by the community can be disbursed to the participating agencies in time for Christmas.