OUR OPINION: Collaborative approach strong way to fight hunger

By: Daily Journal

A broad-based coalition took another step last week in its efforts to fight hunger in Lee County.

The Tupelo/Lee County Hunger Coalition was formed in August under the auspices of the CREATE Foundation’s Tupelo/Lee County Community Foundation and the United Way of Northeast Mississippi. It brings together various entities already working to fight hunger – food banks, nonprofits, churches, schools and government bodies.

The coalition’s idea is to serve as a hub between those groups so they can identify needs, share information and close gaps in coverage. Because, despite tremendous efforts by so many Lee County residents for so long, gaps do exist.

Data compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that 19 percent of Lee County residents suffer from some form of food insecurity. That amounts to roughly 16,270 individuals.

In 2015, the Memphis-based Mid-South Food Bank distributed 1,245,139 pounds of food in Lee County. But estimates by local leaders determined it would take more than 3,000,000 pounds of food to fully meet the community’s need.

And so the coalition seeks to identify the greatest needs and determine how to make the biggest impact with existing resources.

At a meeting last week, the discussion centered around plans for the agencies to coordinate their efforts, as reported by the Daily Journal’s Cristina Carreon.

For instance, CREATE Foundation President Mike Clayborne told the group he received a call last week from the Salvation Army that there was an excess of 400 pounds of crab meat that needed to be distributed quickly. Bargain Hunt had received an extra shipment, but like the Salvation Army, it didn’t know which organization to send it to.

Those are the sort of gaps the coalition hopes to close through communication and collaboration. Clayborne noted the current system is spotty and not comprehensive.

Meanwhile, United Way of Northeast Mississippi President Melinda Tidwell said the coalition has determined three main areas of need – food delivery, food pantries and school programs.

They want to steer local residents to give funds to local food pantries instead of donating food. That’s because food pantries can buy more food for the dollar.

And they want to explore programs that provide food to low-income school children while they’re not at school.

The coalition is the latest example of the community spirit that has long made Tupelo, Lee County and Northeast Mississippi rise above other locales. It’s an ethos that by bringing people and groups together to address a challenge, the impact can be greater.

Reducing hunger is an important goal for any community.

Lee County now has a stronger approach as it tries to do so.