Walk into any big grocery store and you will be met by an abundance of food that is unparalleled in history. Almost any fruit, any time, no matter the season, beef, chicken, pork and vegetables that may have traveled thousands of miles to arrive still fresh, not to mention hundreds of selections of canned good, and frozen foods of all sorts, and offered at affordable prices. Affordable to most, that is.
Hunger is a major problem in South Mississippi, but it isn’t easy to detect. See that family walking down the street? Are they hungry? It’s hard to tell, but the statistics are going to amaze you. There are almost 700,00 people in Mississippi that are food insecure. That means they do not know where their next meal will come or when – 271,000 of those are kids. Hungry children don’t do well in school. They are too busy thinking about finding something to eat. Their health suffers, both physical and mental.
I recently had a talk with Chef Robert St John, one of Mississippi’s most successful chefs, writers, restaurateurs, and you might be surprised to know, Good Samaritan. He grew up poor but was able to make his way through life and climb the latter out of poverty. In 2009, he found out that a local food pantry, that hundreds of family depended on for daily food, was completely out of stock. He sprang into action, as only a man as dynamic as St John is does, and went to work. He got the food to the pantry in a day or two but realized there was a need for something more permanent. He started Extra Table, a nonprofit that raises money to buy food for the hungry and spends 100% of it on food.
In 2019, Extra Table provided 563,534 meals to the needs, raised $447,605 to purchase the food and supplied it to 39 food pantries and kitchens. And that includes the four kitchens and pantries on the Coast: Feed my Sheep, Gulfport, Lord is My Help, Ocean Springs, Loaves and Fishes, Biloxi, Our Daily Bread, Pascagoula.
Did you know that for the first time in history, obesity is now a sign of poverty in the South? Many poor neighborhoods do not have a good grocery store and often depend on convenience stores, where the food selection is poor. Extra Table provided only health food, low in salt, low sugar, lean protein, and not overly processed.
“Food is a basic human right,” St John told me, and I have to agree don’t you? Get involved, volunteer or make a contribution to you local shelter or Extra Table. You will help someone out who is hungry and insure kids develop and get the education they need to live a fruitful life.