Fighting hunger: Local pantries, Mississippi Food Networks need financial, food donations

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Randall Lofton spoke at the front of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in North Lincoln County on Aug. 21. He asked the congregation to please donate food and money as they try to stock their shelves.

A member of the Mississippi Food Network, the pantry served 150 to 180 families the past three months.

“We serve people from Lawrence, Franklin, Copiah and Lincoln Counties,” he said. “One man I gave food to had traveled from Jefferson County.”

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Mt. Zion’s shelves are feeling the effects of supply chain issues, inflation and shortages felt across Lincoln County and Mississippi. At the time they are in desperate need of donations. The best way people can give to the church is by donating money. Checks can be made out to Mt. Zion Baptist Church Food Pantry and mailed to 680 Mt Zion Rd NW, Brookhaven, MS.

Canned goods can also be brought by the church but it is better to make a monetary donation so items can be bought in bulk. It is a lot easier to distribute items bought in bulk, he said. Those with questions can contact Lofton at 601-833-6797.

Other food pantries in Brookhaven are:

• Bethel A.M.E, 710 Swalm Ave., 601-757-2989

• Brookhaven Outreach, 210 W Court St., 601-833-1350

• First Church of the Nazarene, 732 Union Church Road, 601-833-2906

• Greater Hope Foundation, 1955 New Site Road, 601-833-2337

• Siloam Missionary Baptist Church, 2770 Zetus Road Northwest, 601-754-9887

These pantries would gladly accept donations of food or monetary.

A statewide challenge

Mississippi’s Food Network is also seeing a shortage of canned items in their warehouse. Kelly Mott Durrett, Mississippi Food Network’s Director of External Affairs, said before the COVID pandemic they would have about a million pounds of food on their shelves. The situation has become desperate, she said.

“We have seen a decrease in donations of food. We have always relied on our food drives in the community and schools. Our biggest food drive is the WAPT Food for Families Football Challenge which will start this week for the first time in three years,” she said. “We also got food from retail vendors such as Walmart, Sam’s Club and Costco. You couple that with inflation and supply chain issues it is a triple whammy. Truckloads of food are delayed. We got a call back the other day that they had to cancel some orders.”

Mississippi Food Network serves 56 counties in central Mississippi and a lot of their local donations are from the same communities they help. People can donate a dollar if they have one to spare. Every dollar counts, she said.

Food itself such as canned fruits, vegetables, bags of rice and pasta are staple items they lack. Currently, the warehouse is looking empty and there have not been many canned goods for them to buy in bulk.

“It has taken a lot of us by surprise. Things just aren’t available,” Durrett said. “We will still continue to buy food and try to offer the pantries a variety of food but there is not a lot of variety…Right now we don’t know what to expect.”

Why should you care?

Mississippi Food Network is partnered with 430 food pantries across the state to serve hungry families. One of the research projects conducted over the pandemic was on brand recognition. She said 80 percent of Mississippians saw hunger as a problem nationwide but only 46 percent saw it as an issue in the state. One in Four Mississippians face food insecurity daily according to the Mississippi Food Network website.

It is likely the situation was exacerbated by the COVID pandemic. Mississippi is facing a population decline and as a result grocery stores leave small towns creating food deserts in rural communities. Several counties in the state don’t have a grocery store forcing residents to drive to another county.

She said there will be comments on their website asking about food assistance programs such as SNAP, EBT and WIC and why people don’t just use those. People might not realize it is hard to qualify for those programs.

“There are a lot of people who fall through the cracks. If a grandparent is raising their grandchild they can’t claim them as a dependent for those programs,” she said. “We saw a lot of elderly people who fell through the cracks. We recently received a grant and started our own senior grocery program…I invite people to volunteer at a local food pantry. It will change your mind and hopefully if your mind is changed your heart will be changed too.”

How can I help?

Food pantries will always need volunteers but they also need money and food. Durrett said one way people can help donate directly to the Mississippi Food Network is through a virtual canned food drive.

Anyone can set up this virtual food drive on the Mississippi Food Network website. It allows for people to shop for goods and they can donate money to the network so they can use their buying power, she said.

Currently, the food network accepts donations to their office located at 440 W Beatty Street during office hours which are 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Fridays.

“We also encourage people to find which local food pantries are nearby and to donate time, money and food there as well,” she said.

Mississippi Food Network’s fundraiser is on Sept.8 in Jackson. It is a farmer’s market called the Moonlight Market. Nick Wallace is the chef for the event and tickets, which are $50, include food, drinks and a chance to win raffle prizes. Tickets are limited, Durrett said.