Hunger Coalition hosts major food packaging event to benefit area children

By: Cristina Carreon

Image Credit: Adam Robison

TUPELO – Jolie Reid sees hungry children every day at her school.

“At our school, we have brown bags that go out on the weekends during the school year and the kids know when they need that food,” Reid said. “I see a lot of kids personally who need that food. The majority of teachers at our school have snacks in our rooms because you can tell, when everyone else has a snack, who doesn’t have any food. You have kids that are hungry and it may just be a pack of peanut butter crackers, but it’s good enough.”

Reid said the school’s fifth-graders have breakfast at school at 6:30 until about 7:15 a.m. before an early lunch later than afternoon.

“That’s a long morning. I would want a snack in the meantime, you know that they get two meals a day, I had a child who is now 15 that told me one time that he ate cold corn out of a can for dinner the night before, that’s what he had and that’s what he fixed for his little brothers and sisters,” Reid said.

Reid is a speech pathologist at Lawndale Elementary School in Tupelo who volunteered at Tupelo/Lee Hunger Coalition’s first major event, which brought together community volunteers to pack food at BancorpSouth Arena Thursday.

In an assembly line, several hundred volunteers put together boxes and put items in boxes before sliding the boxes down at packaging stations They also shrink wrappedlarge pallets of 5,400 boxes filled with juice boxes, boxed milk, cereal, canned dinners, fruits and vegetables, oatmeal and snacks that will feed Lee County children who are food insecure.

Many had arrived as early as 10 a.m. to drop off boxes, and Mid-South Food Bank delivered the pallets of non-perishable food items ahead of the event later that afternoon.

At the packing event, volunteers packaged food for two hours as part of the Coalition’s Summer Backpack Program, which will run for nine weeks from June 4 to the week of July 30.

Hunger Coalition Director Jason Martin said there will be one other major packing day this summer, and all packaged food will go to feed children in the Lee County and Tupelo schools.

There will be five distribution sites where every Monday from 4:30 to 6 p.m., needy families can pick up two boxes per child, one of which can go to the child’s extended family. The sites will be Tupelo Middle School, Saltillo First Baptist Church, Mooreville Elementary, Verona Elementary and Shannon Middle School.

“Each site has a coordinator, and there is also a partner organization or church that’s working with each of those places to help distribute the food,” Martin said. “The families will either come and get it or it will be delivered.”

The food already packaged is expected to last three weeks, and each child will receive two boxes of food every Monday from a nearby distribution area.

Jeramy Turner, a government teacher at Tupelo High School, will oversee the distribution station at Tupelo Middle School and said several local churches, organizations and teachers on break for the summer have volunteered to deliver food to families without sufficient transportation.

“We’re delivering to about 58 families in Tupelo organized by zones or regions of the city,” Turner said. “We have 410 boxes picked up on Mondays; 100 are delivered and 300 are picked up. We did ask them if they had any way of getting to the school, and if they did not, then we said we would deliver to them because we didn’t want to punish those that did not have transportation.”

Many teachers off for the summer were present.

“Where we see a need, we follow. And with me being a teacher, I know there’s a need for these kids to have food in the summer,” said fourth-grade English teacher Lealue “Sha” Triplett, who came with a group of sorority Delta Sigma Theta members.

Mantachie sixth grade teacher Andrea Barber showed to the event on time with her teens in tow.

“I posted asking on Facebook if teens could come because it’s a good learning experience and my teens are out for the summer,” Barber said.

“I’ve done some research on depression and one of the ways for teens to avoid it, is to have them do service projects for others, so having them volunteer and be a part of something like this, I think is really important for them,” Lawndale Elementary Speech Pathologist Jolie Reid said.

The Coalition, formed by United Way of Northeast Mississippi in 2016, recently formed a partnership with Families First for Mississippi and alongside the Mid-South Food Bank, has pledged to feed 600 Lee County children this summer.

That initial goal to feed 600 children this summer will be exceeded and at least 800 children will be fed, Coalition officials said.

The organization donated $25,000 to Mid-South last Wednesday that went go toward buying food in bulk for the Summer Backpack program, but also raised over $125,000 for its Summer Feeding initiative from local businesses and organizations.