Eight hundred families in Oxford depend on The Pantry for basic food staples each month
By Sterling Swanson, senior broadcast journalism major, Meek School of Journalism and New Media
The next time you sit down for a nutritious meal, consider the fact that nearly one in four Mississippians may not have enough money to buy healthy food.
Mississippi is struggling with high rates of poverty. According to 2011 census data, Mississippi has the lowest household income in the nation and close to 128,000 families live below the poverty line.
“People nationwide are struggling to get back on their feet,” says Carol Wedge, a volunteer at The Pantry in Oxford. “However, I work here because I personally know people in town who are struggling to put decent food on their table all year.”
The Pantry is an all-volunteer organization that provides families and elderly people in need with food. The Pantry helps families twice a year and elderly residents every four weeks. Income screening and food distribution is scheduled every Wednesday and Thursday.
“People come to us when they have no other place to go,” says Barbra Hoffman, volunteer organizer at The Pantry. “On average, The Pantry serves about 7,000 people a year; however, this November we have helped over 1,000 people. That’s 500 more than last year.”
According to U.S. census data, 21 percent of the population in Lafayette County lives below the poverty line and 15 percent of those individuals are above the age of 65.
James, who did not want to give his last name, is one of those older folks who rely on the Pantry.
“They’re kind to me here,” says James. “I get my bread and cans at this spot, but I go to Walmart for my juice and fruit. My doctor says I need to eat my fruit, but I can’t get that here.”
The Pantry is lacking donations of nutritious food for senior citizens, individuals, and families.
“The Pantry is struggling to receive necessary staples and healthy food,” says Julie Walton, a screening advisor at The Pantry. “We take what we can get, but are finding it difficult to feed individuals with diabetes and collecting healthy food. People come here when they need help and we are finding it hard to provide them with what they need.”
The Pantry lacks food low in sodium, sugar and carbohydrates. Though all donations are welcomed, the organization has found it difficult to help those with specific health problems. It’s estimated that 40 percent of the people they try to help each week fall into this category.
“I can’t complain, I really can’t,” says Erin Brown, a recipient of The Pantry. “I come here for basics. They give us a list of the things we are allowed to get, but it’s hard to get what I want. I need to eat food that is low in fat; I go to Big Star for that stuff.”
Many individuals in Mississippi do not have the money they need for healthy foods, especially those who may be struggling to pay for medications.
“People experiencing diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease may find it difficult to receive food from nonprofit organizations,” says Emmy Parkes, a registered dietician at the University of Mississippi. “The foods nonprofit organizations receive are high in fat and sugars. Unfortunately, these are the foods that people with specific aliments need to stay away from.”
“For the most part our shelves stay stocked,” says Walton. “However, they are stocked by items that people don’t have a use for. I get really upset when people give us soda and candy and think these items can sustain a person and family in need.”
The Pantry relies on local stores, too. Every other week, the Big Star and Walmart donate up to 28 boxes of provisions.
“They send us huge shipments,” says Hoffman. “Opening a box is like Christmas Day, we have no idea what we’ll get. I’m not sure how they choose the items to donate, but we are grateful for what we get, though they aren’t always the healthiest choices.”
The most common items The Pantry receives are canned foods high in sodium and sugar. Soda and sugary cereals are also prevalent on the shelves.
On The Pantry’s wish list for donors are corn meal, tuna, peas, pasta, rice and flour. Most of the items listed are basic food staples from any kitchen.
“Besides November and December, The Pantry struggles to receive a constant supply of donations,” says Hoffman. “However, during the holiday months it stays very busy. We have a lot of people getting food, and we have a lot of people donating. The Young Professionals of Oxford, City Hall and Lafayette High School have kept our shelves stocked this month.”
With Mississippi leading the nation in poverty, it becomes necessary for community members and nonprofit organizations to help those who are struggling.
“I like this place,” says James. “I want to get all my stuff here … and pick up all my food together.”
Nutritious Food Donations Needed
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