Food pantries have more need, fewer choices

By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Recent natural disasters have siphoned off the availability of food, but pantries throughout Northeast Mississippi continue to address rising needs.
An official with the Mid-South Food Bank said the organization had to give priority recently to areas affected by tornadoes and floods, and that means fewer choices are available to food pantries.
Although most emergency feeding is over, pantries will have to make due with limited availability until supplies are replenished.
According to the Rev. James Price, the Fulton Food Pantry has received no meats and noticeably fewer vegetable selections from Memphis over the last couple of months. The pantry, which serves Itawamba County residents east of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, is going deeper into its yearly budget to acquire food from other sources.
The St. Luke United Methodist Church Food Pantry in Tupelo also is feeling the crunch. Director Cliff Pickens said the pantry is getting one-third less food from Memphis and that’s making it difficult to serve the 150 families who visit the church each Thursday.
According to Marcia Wells, vice president of communications with the Mid-South Food Bank, when tornadoes ravaged Smithville and floods caused damage in west Tennessee, the organization went into disaster mode. That meant whatever was available in the warehouse was sent to the places where it was needed most.
The Memphis bank serves 18 counties in northern Mississippi, and Wells said pantries in those areas can expect to feel the lingering effects of depleted stores for some time.
Most Northeast Mississippi pantries, including St. Luke and Fulton, receive the majority of their food from the USDA warehouse in Jackson. That food is free, and pantries supplement the menu with food from Memphis, for which they pay a shared maintenance fee of around 14 cents per pound.
Volunteers at the FAITH Food Pantry in Nettleton are trying alternative solutions to make up the difference for the decrease of food from Memphis.
Because of limited storage space and spoilage, most pantries handle only as many perishable items as they can conveniently freeze.
FAITH, however, has started taking donations of fruit, vegetables, bread and baked goods on a trial basis from the two Walmart locations in Tupelo and from Kroger on West Main Street.
Those who live in the Shannon, Nettleton, Plantersville, and Verona school districts can pick up the fresh, perishable items Mondays, Wednesdays and most Fridays from 2:30 p.m. until 3:30 p.m. at 102 Front St.
Food pantries are an important safety net for the poor of Northeast Mississippi.
According to a recent study by the Food Research and Action Center, Mississippi is the hungriest state, with 30 percent of residents saying there have been times when they didn’t have enough money to buy food.
That’s the highest incidence of food insecurity in the country.
Of the 435 congressional districts in the United States, Mississippi’s 1st District ranked 21st among those with the highest food insecurity.
Most pantries in Northeast Mississippi operate on shoestring budgets, with help from the United Way and the Hunger Action Program of the Presbyterian Church USA, along with private donations and support from area churches.

Contact Galen Holley at (662) 678-1510 or galen.holley@journalinc.com.