OUR OPINION: Food insecurity initiative gets boost with director

By: daily Journal

Ongoing efforts to address food insecurity in Tupelo and Lee County have taken a significant step forward as of late, a sure sign that progress is on the mind of all those working toward this beneficial initiative.

An executive director was recently hired to spearhead the efforts of the Tupelo/Lee County Hunger Coalition, a group formed in late 2016 with the intention to act as a hub between a number of groups and entities that are already devoting significant resources to feeding the hungry.

By helping to identify challenges and gaps in services already being provided, local leaders hoped the coalition would act as a sort of spark to light the broader flame and ignite positive change across the area. The coalition received seed money from The Marchbanks Fund through the CREATE Foundation and is a partnership between United Way and the CREATE Foundation.

Those initial efforts, which started with stakeholder meetings and other small group meetings, eventually brought leaders to realize the need to have one person manning this incredibly important ship.

Jason Martin, current director of the St. Luke United Methodist Church Food Pantry, will work on a part-time basis to coordinate with area churches, nonprofit organizations, schools and other groups to formulate a plan to help eradicate hunger in Lee County.

With its new director in place, the coalition is now focused on forming a community board and active committees to address key issues, as reported by the Daily Journal’s Cristina Carreon.

The work to be done in this area is significant for our area.

Key statistics already in view include information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture which indicates that an estimated 19 percent of Lee County residents suffer from some form of food insecurity.

This food insecurity manifests in different forms. It includes families that must rely on food banks or soup kitchens to stave off hunger, a reliance on free and reduced lunch programs offered through local schools or difficult decisions by parents to skip meals themselves or feed their children.

Such insecurity often takes the form of a difficult choice between buying food or paying utility bills. It also includes children who may rely on food from schools and face meager meals at home in the evenings or on weekends.

One of the most important items to keep in mind with these efforts is the harsh reality that, especially in communities like ours, oftentimes those going hungry not only includes the homeless but also many among the working poor.

We’re confident that progress can be made in this arena, especially in this community where obstacles and challenges have never stopped our residents from coming to the table and finding solutions.