In one small, sleepy town just south of Tupelo, Miss., neighbors are working together to help their neighbors facing food insecurity in Monroe County, population 36,000.
Every third Saturday of the month, in the middle of town, over 600 households receive food from the Nettleton F.A.I.T.H. Food Pantry, getting help from almost 100 volunteers packing and distributing boxes of food.
“The food distribution is the biggest activity in Nettleton. Everybody knows about it and many people are involved working to help,” says Marolyn Hester, former pantry director and devoted volunteer.
“The efforts started out of the need to help seniors, whose social security supplements don’t go far. We soon saw a greater need,” she said.
Pantry director Jim Long said many residents have jobs at one of two local furniture factories, which has helped the local economy recover somewhat in recent years. The food insecurity rate in Monroe County is 21 percent
“There was a time when there was nothing (for jobs),” he said.
F.A.I.T.H., which stands for Food Available In This House, has been a Partner Agency of Mid-South Food Bank for over 17 years. Its initial distribution in 1999 assisted 60 families. The pantry is now supported by a network of 10 local churches.
“The pantry takes a lot of work; we have volunteers helping every day, sorting, packing and organizing,” Hester said.
Thanks to a grant from the Tennessee Valley Authority, pantry clients received an extra week’s supply of food in March at a Mobile Pantry. But TVA didn’t just sponsor the Mobile Pantry’s 30,000 pounds of food. A dozen TVA employees from Tupelo and Starkville volunteered to pack and help place food in clients’ hands.
“This is extremely rewarding to help do this,” said Martha Swindle of Tupelo. “TVA is always on the lookout on how to serve the people of the Tennessee Valley, which is its motto.”
Just over 600 households received food at the Mobile Pantry, including Glendon Caywood, 61. Like many clients, his need for assistance stems from medical issues, doctors’ bills. He said he’s suffered multiple heart attacks, while his wife Trina has recently been diagnosed with a muscular disease. His monthly insurance bill increased by $300 this year, he said.
“It can’t be put into words how meaningful this help is to me, and others,” an emotional Caywood said. “It makes a huge difference, just knowing that somebody cares. The volunteers are generous and kind.”