Organizations fighting food insecurity will meet in Tupelo

By: Cristina Carreon

TUPELO • On Monday morning, Families First for Mississippi will hold a stakeholder’s meeting at All Saints’ Episcopal Church to meet with a variety of organizations that provide unique services combating food insecurity in Mississippi.

Hannah Maharrey, grant administrator with Families First for Mississippi, said 23 percent of people in Mississippi are “food insecure,” which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as a lack of consistent access to enough food to live an active, healthy lifestyle.

“We are not trying to replicate current programs like our food pantries and soup kitchens, we are trying to work with out food pantries and soup kitchens and not only support what they are doing now, but supplement in any way we can,” Maharrey said.

Local restaurant and food associations, groceries, food distribution companies, healthcare representatives, school district and college representatives, churches, food pantries, soup kitchens and food banks have been invited to the event.

The Tupelo/Lee County Hunger Coalition will be present as a local community partner.

Coalition Executive Director Jason Martin will make a presentation at the meeting discussing the Coalition’s Summer Backpack Program, which brought hundreds of volunteers together to feed Lee County food insecure students over the summer.

“Specifically we will be reporting about the ongoing work in and around Lee County, especially the work we have been doing with the existing backpack programs and local food pantries,” Martin said. “We also have several new backpack programs and in-school pantries that are in the works.

“We are very interested in the food recovery programs that will be discussed at the meeting and how we can bring a program like this to the Tupelo/Lee County and North Mississippi area.”

A California-based food coalition called “Waste Not OC” will speak to attendees about “food recovery” in which nutritious leftover food from restaurants and stores that would typically go into landfills is diverted and transported to those in need.

Maharrey said a surplus of leftover food from grocery stores, food distributors and restaurants can be transported and either repackaged or given to food pantries or soup kitchens.

“We do it on a small-scale already, but we’re trying to get more involved,” Maharrey said. “It’s about how we can divert food that still has life in it, it’s still nutritious, and can feed people, so the question is how can we divert it.”

The Society of St. Andrew has been in the food recovery business since 1979, with an emphasis on surplus of produce from farmers. The Society has “gleaning locations” in 11 different states.

Society Program Coordinator Andy Lemmon, who oversees Mississippi and Arkansas, said the organization has coordinated with volunteers and farmers to harvest and transport excess farm produce to food pantries and soup kitchens.

“We worked with the Hunger Coalition in July, one of my farmers had a dozen semi trucks full of food that was a week or two old,” Lemmon said. “In produce terms, it takes a week to get to a grocery store, it takes a week to sell at the grocery store, and then you want it to last at least a week on the counter, so you have to be very aware of your timeline.

“He was harvesting so fast that it wasn’t selling as fast as he needed it to, so he found himself with a glut, a surplus of food that was just taking up space and preventing him from harvesting more fresh food.”

Lemmon said the Society seeks to expand its efforts in north Mississippi, particularly in Marshall County, where there is a high rate of food insecurity.