Pack the Bus food drive in Itawamba County

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

Right now, there’s a kind of bizarre trophy sitting inside Tremont High School. Rather than a basketball player mid-jump or an archer with bow at the ready, its figurehead is a 53- ounce can of pepper relish.

See, Tremont’s students are currently the reigning champions when it comes to collecting food, although that could change this year.

Starting Nov. 1, Itawamba County schools will be participating in the Pack the Bus Food Drive for the second consecutive year. This event — a subset of Northeast Mississippi’s annual Food For Families Food Drive, now in its third year — challenges students to collect as much non-perishable food as possible over the course of a month. The school with the most food is designated champion and holds the trophy for the year.

“It’s like the Egg Bowl, except with food,” said MSU-Itawamba Extension Service Director Romona Edge, who helped found the food drive on a bit of a whim.

What started as a simple idea of getting Itawamba County’s students involved in the fundraiser transformed into the program’s biggest local asset.

Last year, Itawamba County contributed 13,000 pounds of food to the food drive. Of that, 11,000 pounds were collected by Itawamba County students as part of Pack the Bus.

Tremont High School students collected the most food — a staggering 3,190 pounds; Itawamba Agricultural High School followed at its heels with a hefty 2,290 pounds of food.

As the drive’s name implies, all of that food is literally packed onto a single school bus for distribution. Last year, boxes of food filled the thing from driver’s seat to rear emergency exit.

This year’s bus will be packed on Nov. 30 at 12:30 p.m. in the parking lot of Walmart in Fulton.

All of that food will be distributed to Itawamba County’s two local food pantries — Fulton Food Pantry and Food Pantry West — which provide free food to thousands of local people every month.

Last year, the food drive as a whole collected more than 41,000 pounds of food to feed families throughout Northeast Mississippi. The entire drive lasts through Dec. 14.

“I was very surprised at how well this did last year,” she said. “Our schools raised the bulk of the food; they should be very proud of themselves.”

Edge said it’s wonderful to see the county’s students wholeheartedly throwing themselves behind such an important project. With Mississippi’s economy in a ditch, the need to help struggling families has become more important than it has been in years.

“It’s very much a need right now, and our food pantries are doing a wonderful job fulfilling that need,” Edge said. “The food pantries are here to help, and they’re definitely worth all the support they can get.”

For more information on either the Pack the Bus or Food for Families food drives, call 862-3201 or visit foodforfamilies2012.org.

adam.armour@journalinc.com