By Robert St. John
“If I had ever been here before I would probably know just what to do. Don’t you? If I had ever been here before on another time around the wheel, I would probably know just how to deal … And I feel like I been here before.”
of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
In 1970, David Crosby penned those words for the title track of “Déjà Vu,” the debut album by the first rock-and-roll super group, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
The song has been on auto-return in my head for the past few days. Crosby was probably referring to something entirely different than a wrathful act of Mother Nature, but the sentiment is the same – I feel like I’ve been here before.
In 2005 Hurricane Katrina, after laying waste to the Gulf Coast, blew through my hometown 90 miles north. We learned quickly the taproot of the Southern Yellow Pine – the tree that helped put this region on the map – was not made to stand up to 110-mph winds. In a matter of hours, our small city looked like a giant had been playing pick-up sticks with 60-foot pole timber.
We woke up the next day and got to work. Neighbors helped neighbors, churches from far away helped churches down the street. We learned quickly that government plays its role in times such as these, but private citizens do it quicker and usually with more efficiency and compassion.
Just over seven years later, at 5:09 p.m. on Feb. 10, an EF4 tornado, with winds up to 170 mph, blew through this same area. It passed a few blocks north of my home and about 200 feet to the south of our Italian restaurant.
For the area as a whole, this is not Katrina. For many of our citizens, this is much worse than Katrina. Though this time it’s different. This time we’ve got one under our belt.
The familiar sound of chainsaws in the distance could be heard immediately. Within hours social media groups began forming volunteer efforts to help neighbors in need. More than 150 people met at a donut shop without electricity at 7:30 the next morning to try and decide where they could offer the most help. I’ve never been more proud to be a citizen of Hattiesburg.
There is a lot left to do. Over 300 residences were affected. Over 1,000 people have been displaced. They need clothes and they need shelter. But their most immediate need is food.
The two main food agencies in town, Edwards Street Fellowship Center and Christian Services are dangerously low on their food supplies. They need help.
This time we are ready. This time there is an answer – a quicker, more efficient and effective answer – Extra Table.
Extra Table is a statewide non-profit that helps supply mission pantries and soup kitchens with healthy, shelf-stable food. Using Sysco, the nation’s largest foodservice distributor, food is delivered to agencies throughout Mississippi (soon to be Louisiana and Florida) on the last Wednesday of every month.
Extra Table is the most efficient and cost-effective way to donate to a food charity. Extra Table buys in bulk and purchases food at wholesale prices so donors are able to give more food than if they were dropping by the local grocery store and picking up a cart full of canned goods. Extra Table has coordinated with local agencies to choose the exact foods they need to fulfill their mission. Extra Table also delivers the food directly to the storeroom of the agency. Most importantly, whenever anyone purchases food from Extra Table, 100 percent of that donation goes to purchase food. No delivery costs, no administrative costs, and, thanks to Sysco, no mark up.
That is where you come in. Extra Table needs your help.
We are making an exception to the last-Wednesday-of-the-month delivery rule. To help the victims of the Hattiesburg tornado (including Oak Grove and Petal), we are about to start shipping food every Wednesday to Hattiesburg’s two local food agencies to help keep their shelves full.
Donations can be made online at www.extratable .org or through the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson, The Greater Pine Belt Community Foundation, or with a check made payable to Extra Table dropped off at Crescent City Grill, Purple Parrot Café, or Tabella. Checks may also be mailed to Extra Table, P.O. Box 17318, Hattiesburg, MS 39404.
Some of us count our blessings. Others assess damage. Many lost everything. Though we all give thanks that no one died.
David Crosby might have said it best, “We have all been here before.” Except this time we are more prepared and ready to serve.
Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author of numerous books.