Food Bank Stories

Agency Conference Draws Record Crowd

An overflowing crowd of more than 200 attended the Mid-South Food Bank’s Agency Conference Sept. 5 at the Kroc Center in Memphis.

The annual event brings agency representatives from the more than 200 Mid-South Food Bank Partner Agencies together to learn the latest research conducted on food insecurity that affects an estimated 417,000 people in 31 counties in the region. Attendees heard from guest speakers, including Dr. Mary Campbell of Christian Brothers University who presented results from client surveys. Others talked about a range of topics – from customer service to smart, healthy cooking tips to diversity/sensitivity training.

“These conferences are very helpful. The most useful part of them to me is the brainstorming session,” said return attendee Zachary Kerr of Neighborhood Christian Center in Memphis.

The brainstorming questions concerned challenges most all Partner Agencies face such as getting food items to seniors who don’t have transportation; bilingual communication obstacles;  helping to make employment referrals; urban gardening opportunities; and ensuring that food items complement necessary medicines, especially for seniors.

The question and answer session was arranged so that representatives from various agencies were mixed at tables and charged with offering suggested solutions to common problems.

Peggy Stehling, with Catholic Charities of West Tennessee, said she appreciated the guest speakers. “There were some great ideas on how to solve these needs we face. And I was surprised to learn about all the volunteer agencies that are able to recruit volunteers for agencies,” she said.

Tonya Bradley, Vice President of Programs for Mid-South Food Bank, said that the conference, her third, was the best one yet in terms of participation and guest speakers. “Representatives indicated that we have been out visiting them and listening to their concerns, and now we are equipping them with the tools that they need,” she said.

Winners of the 2013 Conference Agency Awards included:   St. Jude M.B.C., Food Pantry of the Year; Fayette Cares, Outstanding Performance; Boys and Girls Club, Youth Agency of the Year; and Moscow Food Pantry, Agency of the Year.

Mobile Pantry Highlights $100,000 Walmart Grant

Union County's first Mobile Pantry Feeds 430 households  

As Mark Lewellen scanned the crowd lined up to receive food boxes, he noticed many familiar faces. “These are our customers we see and talk with every day, but we had no idea of their hunger needs – I’m shocked at the number of people,” said the assistant manager of the Walmart Supercenter in New Albany, Miss., on Aug. 28.

Outside on the store’s parking lot, volunteers from Good Samaritan Food Pantry and the local high school helped nearly 40 Walmart employees package nine food items, including fresh fruits and mixed meats, into boxes for 430 households in Union County’s first Mobile Pantry from Mid-South Food Bank. The Mobile Pantry coincided with the announcement of a $100,000 grant to Mid-South Food Bank from Walmart to be used to purchase food that will help food insecure residents in the 18 counties the Food Bank serves in north Mississippi.

For every $1 donated, Mid-South Food Bank can provide three meals. It distributes food to more than 200 partner agencies in 31 counties in the region: food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, youth programs and more.  In north Mississippi 123,946 people – including 4,820 residents in Union County – face food insecurity and hunger.

Walmart Supercenter Manager Brenda Johnson said many of the store’s employees who volunteered to package food came to help on their day off from work. “I’ve been working in New Albany a year and a half, and I just can’t believe the number of families here in line for food boxes. It’s just amazing,” Johnson said.

The people receiving the boxes – some waiting since the break of dawn – were a mix of elderly and young single parents carrying their children. Many were neighbors or acquaintances.

While awaiting his turn in line, Toby Carlyle, 60, hugged and chatted with a former coworker at a manufacturing plant that closed a couple of years ago and with it, made 1,500 workers unemployed.

“It’s been a merry-go-round with jobs in this area,” said Carlyle, a Vietnam veteran who suffers from several medical conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder. While some may be surprised that so many Americans – an estimated 50 million – don’t get enough food to eat daily, Carlyle was not. He’d seen hunger in foreign lands, and was aware of the danger.

Without monthly food assistance from Good Samaritan, he’d be “scraping for food for three weeks.”

Andrea Smith, 34, lives with two senior citizens and said that day-to-day hunger is prevalent enough in Union County that most everybody knows somebody with the struggle. “No one is reluctant to talk about it,” she said.

“There’s nothing in my refrigerator at home so today’s food is very helpful and I’m grateful, but assistance does not last long enough.”

For more information on the Mobile Pantry, click here.

Senior Grocery Program Begins

Oxford Pantry Distributes First Senior Grocery Boxes

Virgil Harris was one of the first senior citizens to benefit from the 3,000 boxes of food nearly 400 Kroger employees packaged during a recent regional conference, the Kroger Cares Summit.  

“I live alone and Social Security is not enough. This helps a whole lot,” said Harris, a resident of Lafayette County, Miss., who picked his Kroger box of food up at the Oxford Food Pantry on July 31. 

He grinned, peering into the box filled with seven food items, including vegetable soups and canned chicken. Pantry volunteer Michael Danahy helped Harris select supplemental items from the shelves and escorted him with his cart to his car. 

The pantry sets aside one day per month to serve only seniors. The Oxford Food Pantry was the first one to receive the pallets of Kroger Senior Grocery boxes. Seventy-five were handed out to pre-screened visitors the morning Harris visited.  

The remaining 75 – each one worth $37.45 in retail value – were to be delivered to home-bound seniors. 

“This is nice. It’s just wonderful,” replied Lorraine Randall, who got one of the boxes, when told by volunteer Peggy Emerson about Kroger’s efforts. “The seniors are very appreciative of this and I think it’s important that they know who provided these boxes,” Emerson said. 

Kroger’s efforts were part of its management’s goal to move beyond partnering with Mid-South Food Bank with food resources. It wanted to prompt its employees to participate in the assembling process. 

Assisted by logistics from Mid-South Food Bank, the employees divided into eight teams and packaged the 22-pound boxes in two, fast-paced, one-hour shifts underneath a tent at the host hotel’s parking lot on July 18. Kroger employees’ efforts kicked off a new initiative by Mid-South Food Bank to focus on more efforts to provide nutritious food to senior citizens. 

A 2011 hunger study determined that there’s an estimated 45,000 seniors not getting enough to eat everyday over a 31-county area currently in Mid-South Food Bank’s service area. 

“These boxes’ contents fit perfectly with what we are trying to consistently give clients - and that’s healthy food,” said Oxford Food Pantry’s director, Julian Tate. “It was a great idea to focus just on seniors.”