OUR OPINION: Food insecurity requires all hands on deck

By: Daily Journal

Mississippi’s ranking as the most food insecure state in the country for the eighth straight year reinforces the incredible need found throughout our state and the reality that the organizations working to combat this issue have a lot of important work ahead of them and need our support.

According to a report released earlier this month by Feeding America, more than 600,000 Mississippians – or nearly 20 percent of the state’s residents – had limited or uncertain access to healthy meals in 2016. The organization is a nationwide network of food banks that delivers more than four billion meals annually to people who consistently suffer from hunger. Mississippi Today first reported on the results of the report.

This is the eighth edition of Feeding America’s annual report, titled Map the Meal Gap, and each year Mississippi had the highest rate of food insecurity, hovering around 20 percent. From 2012-16, it was the only state to reach that mark.

The study uses answers to Census questions on food security, as well as economic indicators, such as unemployment, median income, poverty and home ownership rates, to determine food insecurity rates. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food security as having ample resources and access to healthy food options throughout the year, Mississippi Today reported.

In addition to providing county-by-county data, the study also breaks up Mississippi into four districts to look at the issue in broader, regional terms. The majority of counties found in Northeast Mississippi fall into District 1, which is listed as having 127,330 Mississippians, or 16.7 percent, as food insecure. That’s the lowest percentage in the state, with District 2, which includes all of the Delta and some parts of Southwest Mississippi, having the highest – 197,000 residents, or 27.9 percent, suffering from food insecurity.

These numbers speak to the ongoing efforts to address food insecurity in Tupelo and Lee County that have been ongoing since late 2016 when the Tupelo/Lee County Hunger Coalition was formed. The group was created 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. A director was hired earlier this year to spearhead the coalition’s efforts.

The reality is that food insecurity is all around us and can impact our neighbors, coworkers and friends. In fact, many of the working poor, in addition to the homeless, throughout our region are among those that are food insecure.

Groups working to help these Mississippians need our assistance. Through a united community approach, perhaps Mississippi can move the needle in a significant way and break this eight-year cycle.