What is the image of hunger in Vicksburg and Warren County? What comes to mind? When we think of someone starving it’s usually an image of an emaciated child from a third world country seared in our minds, thanks to the TV.
That picture doesn’t fit for a country of wealth and power like the United States, let alone the state with highest number of obese residents. The sad reality is, though, over 550,000 Mississippians experience regular food insecurity, according to Feeding America.
At the county level, Mississippi also has the highest rates of food insecurity in the nation. Issaquena County has a food insecurity rate of 40%, while Jefferson County has a 36% food insecurity rate. There are more people that are food insecure in Hinds County (61,000) than the entire state of North Dakota (55,000). To make matters worse, eligibility requirements to access SNAP benefits in Mississippi are the most strict in the entire country.
Here in Vicksburg and Warren County, 1 in 5 of us struggle to make decisions sometimes daily, often weekly and monthly, on where to find food because the money has run out or there are more mouths to feed than planned. Those of us experiencing food insecurity tend to be under 16 and over the age of 65: our two most vulnerable age groups.
In the years that I have helped feed our community, the overwhelming reason for hunger that I have come across is seniors on a limited income. They might be raising grandchildren or just having to balance food, medication, utilities, and other necessities, often with only a meager social security check. So many, when you hear their story, talk about saving up for 40 years and then having cancer or illness wipe out their accounts and a lifetime’s hard work. Another all-too-common theme among these seniors is a child with a drug problem, who has stolen everything of value and often left children for them to raise.
With gas prices surging and 2/3 of the price of our food based on fuel, our most vulnerable are being hit harder than ever on every level. Let’s face it, what’s most nutritious is often most expensive.
With all of our problems, we are blessed to have so many churches and organizations who stand in the gap in this fight. We have the Community Council, which runs a meals on wheels program, River City Rescue Mission, which delivers 60 meals a day year around plus runs a food pantry. The men’s ministry at First Presbyterian takes up two days a week for meals on wheels and The Knights of Columbus have a day they provide food. St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Good Shepherd runs a food pantry, then The Women’s Group at Porters Chapel Methodist provides meals for 100 plus people in need, which I have the privilege of helping to distribute.
Magnolia Manor, a senior apartment complex for those with reduced income, benefits tremendously. Laura McCollum, the property manager, when asked what the food programs means for her residents, said “It means the difference between two meals or three meals a day. It’s harder and harder for our residents to stretch what they have until the end of the month.”
We have a few more open spots for delivery at Porters Chapel Methodist. If you’d like to help, either reach out to me, Wesley Storz, on Facebook or call and leave a message at the church.
People don’t understand how serious the problem is. Our schools caught a lot of flack earlier this year by keeping schools open in questionable weather. If you paid close enough attention, if they hadn’t, several hundred or perhaps thousand children right here in Vicksburg would have gone to bed without enough food.
We are very fortunate to have businesses like Kroger and Walmart who make large donations to community organizations weekly. Walmart is very supportive of the United Way and Kroger feeds hundreds in our community through its donations to River City Rescue Mission. It’s not just the big businesses either, local shops like Super Junior do their part as well.
Thank you to all the volunteers, churches, donors, and those who just keep everyone in prayers. Giving back is what we as Christians are called to do. An hour of your time a week or the cost of a trip to Starbucks makes little difference to most of us, but it means the world to those who go without.
As times get tough, I beseech those of you who can to consider investing in some of our great local organizations who could use your spare time or money to benefit those less fortunate. In the land of plenty, there is no reason anyone should ever go to bed without a meal.
Good Shepherd Food Pantry: 601-642-0636
River City Rescue Mission: 601-636-6602
United Way of West Central MS: 601-636-1733
Salvation Army: 601-636-2706
Community Council Vicksburg: 601-638-7441