In the News

Mobile food pantry rolls in to Corinth

by Zack Steen, Daily Corinthian

Staff photo by L.A. Story Kala Marsh provides advice to Dacy Kate Marsh as they volunteer to assist putting food boxes together for the Mid-South Food Bank.

Fighting hunger ... a weeks’ worth of food at a time.

The Mid-South Food Bank’s Mobile Pantry was in Corinth this week distributing more than 1,500 meals to needy Crossroads area families.

Volunteers worked for several hours at the Church of the Crossroads on Friday morning where the Memphis-based food bank was setup to provide food to eligible, pre-screened families.

“The program is very effective in getting an additional weeks' worth of food to people who receive benefits such as SNAP,” Mid-South Food Bank Marketing Manager Andrew Bell told the Daily Corinthian. “Those food benefits run out in about 2 1/2 weeks so this food bank helps provide them with more food so they can use that extra money to pay the higher utility bills in the winter, for example.”

A $16,427 grant from the Caterpillar Foundation helped foot the bill for the latest food bank.

"Hunger is an issue in every community. Mid-South Food Bank is thankful to the Caterpillar Foundation for its commitment to fighting hunger and supporting children and families in need in Alcorn County,” said Estella Mayhue-Greer, president and CEO of Mid-South Food Bank.

Each year, 42 million people in the United States face hunger, including 17.6 percent of the population in Alcorn County.

The grant from Caterpillar will also distribute more than 90,000 pounds of food to 1,600 Alcorn residents through monthly Mobile Pantry food distributions hosted by Pinecrest Baptist Church. This provides direct delivery of fresh produce, frozen meat and other perishable and non-perishable foods to designated, underserved communities.

“The Caterpillar Foundation is committed to alleviating poverty in the communities in which we live and work,” said Michele Sullivan, president of the Caterpillar Foundation. “We are proud to partner with Mid-South Food Bank to support individuals in Alcorn County who may not know where their next meal will come from.”

The Caterpillar Foundation’s national investment will help 300,000 people facing hunger in Caterpillar communities in 44 counties. Caterpillar Foundation has helped provide more than 5 million meals to Caterpillar communities since 2015.

Mid-South Food Bank distributes more than 13 million pounds of food to over 200 Partner Agencies annually.

According to Bell, the next mobile pantry will take place on March 3.

Column: Memphis is giving community that is long on needs

By Tonya Weathersbee

The findings aren’t as surprising as they are revealing.

Memphis ranks third in the nation as the city with the the most residents who are in need, according to WalletHub, a personal finance website that regularly produces research and rankings on quality-of-life issues,.

Detroit ranks first, while Brownsville, Texas, ranks second.

That finding isn’t all that stunning, especially since up until last year, census data ranked Memphis as the nation’s poorest large metro area. It dropped to number two last year (behind Tucson, Arizona), when its poverty rate fell from 20.3 percent to 18.4 percent.

Yet WalletHub also found that the struggles of people here can’t be blamed on the stinginess of their neighbors – because when it comes to charitable giving, Memphians rank first for giving the largest percentage of their incomes to charity.

That isn’t surprising to Andrew Bell, communications manager for Mid-South Food Bank.

According to its annual report, 52 percent of its funding last year came from individuals, while another 22 percent came from corporations. The rest came from faith-based organizations, foundations, the government and program services.

“I think there’s a longstanding attitude in the region here of people wanting to help their neighbors,” Bell told me. “I think Memphians are very aware of the struggles and that we’re in the center of a lot of poverty, in the Delta region…

“I think people understand that a little bit of help goes a long way, and that we’re in the struggle together of lifting the community up.”

But individual lifting only goes so far.

Despite the generosity of food bank donors, WalletHub still ranked Memphis fourth among the top five cities in food insecurity, meaning that many people don’t always know where their next meal will come from.

That also doesn’t shock Bell.

“Food insecurity is in every zip code. You have a lot of people who are still struggling after the recession. They had a lot of financial strain and they’re still trying to catch up,” he said.

“I think there are a lot of factors involved…we distribute to a 31-county region, where there’s not a lot of grocery stores and not a lot of access to healthy food," Bell said. “That all carries over. When you’re hungry, you have a health problem. So when you have a family that’s eating cheap food, low nutritious food, and they’re struggling, they’re going to have health problems...

“That all trickles down, which means that you have to choose when it comes to paying necessary expenses, or having enough of the right kind of food not just to survive, but to live healthy and prosper.

Again, not surprising. But revealing.

It’s revealing in that it shows that poverty has many layers.

Most of all, it’s revealing in that it shows individual generosity cannot penetrate those layers; that even as big-hearted as some Memphians are, they still cannot donate on a large enough scale to replace programs such as food stamps and other assistance that assure poor people of at least some measure of stability.

Yet the idea that charities and the individuals who donate to them can replace much of the social safety net is an idea that lawmakers such as House Speaker Paul Ryan have been bullish on for some time – and one that will likely be used to further gut assistance programs.

But they’re wrong – and even some conservative scholars say they’re wrong.

For example, Arthur Brooks, president of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, explained the folly of that notion in Commentary Magazine in 2014. He wrote: “Consider the present total that Americans give annually to human-service organizations that assist the vulnerable. It comes to about $40 billion, according to Giving USA.

“Now suppose that we could spread that sum across the 48 million Americans receiving food assistance, with zero overhead and complete effectiveness. It would come to just $847 per person per year.

“Or take the incredible donation levels that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2011. The outpouring of contributions exceeded $3 billion, a record-setting figure that topped even the response to the attacks of September 11, 2001.

“But even this historic episode raised enough to offset only 3 percent of the costs the storm imposed on the devastated areas of Louisiana and Mississippi. Voluntary charity simply cannot get the job done on its own.”

This is important to remember during a time when some lawmakers are eyeing cuts to social programs through romanticizing about the virtues of American philanthropy.

And the example of Memphis – a place where generous hearts aren’t enough to fill deepening needs – is important to remember as well.

Bell knows this too.

“Right now, we’re feeding about half the people who are in need throughout the year, which is over 400,000 who are food insecure. So that tells you something.”

Indeed it does.

International Paper Strengthens Partnership With Mid-South Food Bank

By Don Wade

International Paper Co. presented the Mid-South Food Bank with a check for $1.25 million in support of its signature charity last week and the timing was excellent because, well, there is never not a good time for the Food Bank to receive that kind of generous help.

“Food insecurity is a real issue across the Mid-South and International Paper has the products, the resources and the desire to assist us,” said Estella Mayhue-Greer, president and CEO of Mid-South Food Bank. “We cannot thank them enough.”

But the gift also served as a reminder that even generous donations do not provide an ultimate solution. Consider the Food Bank’s backpack program for school children and Thanksgiving week. The need for food at home grows because there are more days the children are not being fed breakfast and lunch at school.

And every day, Mid-South Food Bank has a large area to serve: 31 counties in West Tennessee, North Mississippi and East Arkansas, where more than 21 percent of the population struggles with food insecurity and hunger.

Annually, the Food Bank distributes from 12 million to 15 million pounds of food. That’s a lot, but Mayhue-Greer says they need to be distributing more like 25 million pounds. They currently reach about 220,000 people in those 31 counties, but about twice that number have food shortages.

“Food-banking has changed,” she said. “We’re more intentional about making sure we’re meeting nutritional needs.”

About 40 percent of the people receiving assistance have diabetes, high blood pressure, or both, she said. While food drives long have been a staple in the industry, there is shift away from that because people donating canned goods will clean out their pantries with little respect to the nutritional content of the food being donated or the expiration dates.

When that food comes in, volunteers have to sort it to make sure it is suitable to be distributed.

“The University of Memphis analyzes our backpack program, makes sure we’re meeting the nutritional needs of children,” Mayhue-Greer said. “So not everything that comes in the door goes out. And when we have to dump (food), we have to pay a fee.”

Currently, the Food Bank is operating at out of three warehouses that cover about 100,000 square feet. The IP donation will allow the Food Bank to consolidate into one 227,000-square-foot warehouse that was purchased in 2013.

“We had an opportunity to get that building at a good price,” Mayhue-Greer said, adding that it will take time to make the shift from the existing warehouses into just one. “We’re still in that process. One of the things International Paper has said is when we make that transition, they want to have engineers go in to make sure we can operate effectively and efficiently in that facility.”

The $1.25 million donation follows a strong and growing relationship between IP and the Food Bank. Previously, IP has participated in Operation Feed – the annual food and funds drive among area companies – and had more than 100 of its employees volunteer to work in the Food Bank warehouses.

International Paper also made a donation of more than $80,000 from a golf tournament and came to the Food Bank’s rescue when a freezer broke down this year and needed to be repaired; that cost was $20,000.

Now, IP has taken a bigger step by making the Mid-South Food Bank its signature charity and providing the funds to consolidate the collection and distribution process that is central to fighting hunger.

“The foundation of IP’s revised philanthropy strategy is to mobilize our people, products and resources to address the critical needs in the communities where employees live and work,” said Mark Sutton, chairman and CEO. “We have selected fighting hunger as one of our signature causes.”

It’s a cause that will always need fighting. Mayhue-Greer points out that it’s not just the unemployed that go hungry, but the underemployed.

“When you have a household used to two full-time incomes get cut down to two part-time incomes, you’re going to struggle to make ends meet. Might have to choose between paying the mortgage, the utility bill, and buying food,” she said. “Seniors might have to decide between paying rent, paying for a prescription, or buying food. Those are tough choices.”

Gift helps food bank fill hunger, health needs          

By Tonya Weathersbee, The Commercial Appeal

This food was supposed to fill bellies. But instead, it wound up filling up garbage bins.
“We (recently) lost a whole freezer full of protein products and meats,” Estella Mayhue-Greer, president and CEO of Mid-South Food Bank, told me.
“All of that went bad, and we also had to pay fees to dump it.”
That happened, Mayhue-Greer said, because the food bank is operating with freezers that are too antiquated to accommodate donations of perishable products that it is now trying to dis-tribute to the thousands of people in 31 Mid-South counties who struggle to find enough food to eat.
Which is why she’s especially grateful for the early holiday gift it will receive from International Paper Co.
According to The Commercial Appeal, that company is poised to donate $1.25 million to the food bank on Wednesday.
“We have selected fighting hunger as one of our signature causes and will partner with Mid-South Food Bank to address hunger in the greatest Memphis area,” International Paper chair-man Mark Sutton recently said in a press release.
No doubt, that’s always a good cause.
Yet that money won’t be used to buy more food, but rather, to ensure that the groceries that the food bank has won’t go bad – and to streamline distri-bution so that it ultimately winds up going to most of the people who need it, Mayhue-Greer said.
“We have a freezer that we refer to as a World War II freezer because it is so old,” Mayhue-Greer said. “We’ve had to rent freezers to store produce.”
Another good thing about the gift from International Paper: It helps the Mid-South Food Bank continue on a mission to not only relieve people’s hunger pangs, but to expose them to better nutrition through providing fresh meats, fruits and vegetables.
“Food banking has changed,” said Mayhue-Greer, who also said that while more than 423,000 people in the region are grappling with food insecurity, the food bank struggles to reach more than half of them.
“Refrigeration and freezer space is important, because fresh food is more nu-tritious,” she said. “That’s why we’re moving away from food drives and hav-ing fund drives instead, so that we can buy produce and perishable foods.
“We’re doing this because many of the people in the households that we serve have high incidents of diabetes and high blood pressure, and they need fresh food.”
Yet while the $1.25 million gift from International Paper to the Mid-South Food Bank is a triumph, the area still has lots of work to do when it comes to tamping down hunger and food insecurity among its most vulnerable citizens.
According to a 2015 report by the Food Research Action Center, the food hardship rate for the Memphis area was at 22.7 percent. That makes it eighth among 18 metropolitan areas for having the highest rates of food insecurity.
The predicaments fueling hunger in Memphis are similar to the predicaments fueling hunger and food insecurity across the nation. Families and house-holds – even those receiving food stamps and other assistance – still don’t have enough resources to make their food last through the end of the month. Too many are working minimum wage or part-time jobs that often force them to make tough choices.
Do they fill their gas tanks?
Do they fill their prescriptions?
Or do they fill their stomachs?
The good thing is that organizations like Mid-South Food Bank, and donors such as International Paper Co., are working to make those choices easier for struggling individuals and families. And they’re doing it not just by focusing on keeping them fed, but on keeping them healthy with fresh food.
What that shows is that while it remains a tragedy that scores of working people have to rely on charity to meet a basic need, the victory, at least here, is that those who are helping them are focusing on their long-term nutritional needs.
By doing so, they’re seeing them through the lens of their dignity, and not just their neediness.
And that’s always good.

Food bank grocery program fills local freezers and bellies

By Jennifer Biggs of The Commercial Appeal

Lonzo Smith slipped his big hands into a pair of latex gloves to carry full-size chafing dishes from the kitchen of the Memphis Union Mission to the all-purpose room, used for dining and for worship. The 200 or so men gathered for dinner came as they were called, by rows, to pick up a plate generously filled with smothered pork chops, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, corn pudding and bread. When they were served, seconds were offered. And there was dessert for everyone.

Until a few months ago, Smith was the manager of a fast-food restaurant in the suburbs. After his fourth heart attack, his doctor said no more — he had to quit working. With no financial reserve, he lived for a short time with his brother and then spent a week on the street before finding his way to the Mission, where he lives — and eats — while he holds hope that his disability status will be approved.

Smith, 54, is one of nearly 420,000 food-insecure residents of the 31-county area served by the Mid-South Food Bank. The area extends north to the Kentucky border, west to take in Crittenden County in Arkansas, east to Tishomingo County in Mississippi and south two counties to Monroe. National donations, mostly through Feeding America, make up 50 percent of food donated to the Mid-South Food Bank, which distributes about 15 million pounds of food annually; the retail store donation program brings in about 5 million pounds, or one-third, of that. In November, the 115 participating groceries provided 458,856 pounds of food.

"That might be a big number, but there is so much more out there to capture," said Janet Benford, the program coordinator.

In 1996, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Law paved the way for grocery stores to donate food to agencies by offering the donor and the agencies liability protection as long as they act in good faith. This opened the door for perishable foods to go to agencies, greatly changing the canned goods donation that had been the standard. And while the food bank was able to gather perishables from groceries before then, it was in 2013 that the retail store donation program was officially founded.

The program has greatly elevated giving: In the fiscal year that ended in June, nearly 5 million pounds of food was collected and distributed. The program coordinates with partner agencies, such as Memphis Union Mission, so that their drivers can pick up from groceries daily. Additionally, three dedicated drivers have daily routes, each going to 12 to 15 stores. Those drivers, who work for the food bank, inspect the food at the site, then deliver it to the food-bank warehouse on Heistan Place, where everything is weighed and sorted for distribution.

Driver Bobby Womack's route includes stores in the suburbs, such as Sprouts, Super Target and Kroger at Houston Levee and Macon roads, and includes a daily pickup at The Fresh Market in Midtown. He's prepared for whatever he might get.

"You just never know. Sometimes I go to The Fresh Market and it might be two or three tubs of bakery items and sometimes it might be 10 or 12 tubs and include all kinds of things," he said.

Strict attention is paid to food-safety guidelines. Meat is frozen when picked up, goes to a refrigerated truck and then to a freezer for storage in the warehouse. Often meat is held in the freezer until there's enough of one thing to feed a large group. Other perishable items, such as fruit and vegetables and bakery items, are frequently consumed the day they're picked up. Kids' Cafe, a joint program between the food bank and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Memphis that provides 56,000 hot meals annually in three after-school programs, "shops" from the grocery-donated items.

Womack works the store when he makes a pickup.

"I go in and check with all the departments, because maybe they have something they haven't thought about until they see me," he said.

All the food donated is in date, though most perishables are nearing expiration. But other times, a store might donate food because too much was ordered, or the packaging is out of date; this was a big year for Halloween candy.

Sam's Club, Walmart, Super Target, SuperLo and Kroger are among the local donors; most of the food served to Smith and the other men at Memphis Union Mission was picked up at Kroger just hours before it was prepared. Kroger public affairs manager Teresa Dickerson said perishable donation began at the corporate level about 10 years ago, starting with Fred Meyer stores.

"We donate about 50 million pounds of perishable food annually through Feeding America," she said. "I'd say 99.9 percent of Kroger stores across the country participate."

Before the Good Samaritan Act?

"Even though we knew it was good food, most of it went in the trash," said Robert Hanrahan, food safety manager for Kroger Delta. "Last year we donated 2.7 million pounds of perishables in this region. In the old days, most of that would have been trash."

This spring France adopted a bill banning grocery stores from throwing away food. Food that is safe to eat must be donated to agencies that feed needy people; food that is not safe for humans to consume will go to farmers for animal food or for compost when the law takes effect in July.

For folks like Smith, shelter and sustenance is not something to take for granted. Food that would have ended up in a landfill is feeding him during a hard time in his life.

"I consider myself homeless even though I live here, because I've always had my own place," he said. "But I'm grateful I'm here. I'm safe and I get three good meals a day. It's hot and they give us plenty."