Baldwyn students Christmas food bags tide families over for holiday break

By: Cristina Carreon

Image Credit: Thomas Wells

BALDWYN • Prentiss County students and their families lined up at the bus entrance at Baldwyn Middle School to receive boxes and bags of fresh produce and food during the second in-school food pantry distribution day.

“This is available to any kid in the school district. It’s paid for through a Foodcorp grant, and it will really help our families,” said Baldwyn Schools Assistant Superintendent Raymond Craven. “During the day, they are not going get anything done in school if you’ve got kids who are hungry, so we are trying to fulfill some of the physical needs so we can attack some of the mental needs.”

Craven said the school district’s goal is to provide enough food for 200 students per month.

The Baldwyn Bearcats Market started in November with 75 students served a box of food around the time of Thanksgiving. On Thursday, volunteers prepared enough food for 150 people.

“The program in Baldwyn had an incredible start with over 100 students and families registering and with 86 actually picking up the food,” Hunger Coalition Executive Director Jason Martin said. “We expect the number to grow as the word gets out and the families realize how much food is in the box.”

The WAVE Market was established earlier this year at Tupelo Middle School to supplement students’ nutrition at home.

The Hunger Coalition did not provide financial assistance for the program but helped coordinate the Baldwyn pantry and provided food boxes to kids kindergarten through eighth grade. Funding for the Bearcats Market came from local company Caterpillar, which gave funds to the Mid-South Food Bank to provide food specifically to Prentiss County.

“They have given money to the Mid-South Food Bank to provide families with food in Prentiss County,” Martin said.

The Baldwyn Bearcats Market is almost exactly the same as the TMS WAVE Market, except that Baldwyn’s in-school food pantry is also supported by two local churches.

“The idea was generated after numerous conversations with backpack program volunteers and the food bank. There’s not a single person that deserves credit, as all of this work has been a collective effort,” Martin said.

The Orchard Northside Church pastor Jay Stanley has volunteered with other members of the church to help launch Baldwyn’s food giveaways and said many families that attend the church come from the Baldwyn area.

“We serve three communities, Saltillo, Guntown and Baldwyn,” Stanley said, adding there are at least four more sites where there are plans to create additional in-school food pantries.

Orchard church volunteer Shelaine Pennington said the packing day was going well due to improved organization.

“Today we have fruit and cabbage along with the canned goods, and we’re hoping it will get them through the Christmas break,” Pennington said. “Our goal is to do this once a month and hopefully that increases further down the road.

“It’s an honor to me, to be able to help, and the thing is, so many times we don’t really think of people being in need and this kind of hits home when you see the cars lined up and you realize that we’re doing something good.”

There are plans to attempt to take the project to every middle school and high school in Lee County.

“We anticipate two more in-school pantries to be started in 2019,” Martin said.

Even though the Tupelo/Lee County Hunger Coalition did not provide funds for the Baldwyn food giveaway on Thursday, as of early December, the Coalition’s board partnered with United Way of Northeast Mississippi and Families First for Mississippi to provide a few grants to organizations currently serving food insecure residents in Lee County.

In October, grants were given to the Junior Auxiliary Backpack program, First United Methodist Church Backpack Program, Plantersville United Methodist Church Backpack Program, Brewer United Methodist Church Backpack Program, West Main Church of Christ Backpack Program, Auburn Baptist Church Backpack Program and Global Outreach Backpack Program, in amounts ranging from $500 to $3,000.

The grants were given to provide food insecure Lee County children with enough food to tide them over during the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays.

The Hunger Coalition also gave $25,000 to the Mid-South Food Bank to make sure Lee County food pantries and agencies also have enough food during the holidays.

And additional funding was also given to F.A.I.T.H. Food Pantry, St. Luke Food Pantry, Helping Hands Food Pantry, Jericho Baptist Church Food Pantry, Meals on Wheels, Emmanuel Church of God in Christ Food Pantry, Salvation Army food pantry and soup kitchen, Saints Brew from $1,000 to $3,500.

“These grants were given to help these groups through the very demanding holiday season,” Martin said.