In Tunica County, Miss., efforts by the Sheriff’s department to help seniors and other residents struggling with food insecurity have been ramped up because of COVID 19’s arresting consequences. Every week officers and other department employees are delivering over 25 boxes of nutritious food from Mid-South Food Bank to residents’ homes.
“I can’t tell you how much this means. I’m really thankful for this,” said Patricia Savely, when she was visited by Tunica County Sheriff K. C. Hamp and Assistant Chief Deputy Jammie Lewis with a box containing non-perishable food. She also recently received an assortment of apples oranges, potatoes, and strawberries.
Savely, 55, is one in a cluster of homes not far from Tunica Cutoff Lake. She suffers from multiple health issues after heart surgery, including kidney failure and partial blindness.
Because of the mandate to stay at home because of Covid-19, receiving food and a personal visit from the officers have alleviated the isolation. “People are afraid to get out, and if you are sick like me, there’s no going to the grocery,” she said.
Tunica County has reported 52 confirmed cases and three deaths from the virus. The food insecurity rate in the county hovers at 31 percent under normal circumstances, one of the highest in the nation.
Before the virus, the Sheriff’s department had a regular program helping seniors with a hot meal monthly at the community recreation center and hosting periodic activities like movie nights. In late April, however, the department was approached by Mid-South Food Bank, which was looking for a way to reach seniors and others with transportation problems and other barriers to finding food to help them during the heightened hunger problem brought about by the pandemic.
Sheriff Hamp liked the fact that the outreach is pro-active, reaching people in their homes, as the department continues to inquire where people are in need and asking the public to spread the word of available assistance.
Reaching out and getting to know and help those in need has been especially meaningful, Lewis added, noting the department holds weekly roundtables to coordinate distributions.
“This is what we mean by community policing,” Lewis said. “We are foremost looking out for seniors to help because they are our most vulnerable. But, because of Covid-19 unemployment, we are seeing more families with kids needing help.”
A middle-aged man living next to Savely approached the officers to receive a box. He said he was awaiting on a phone call indicating when he could return to work as a dealer at one of the casinos.
The officers visited several more homes that day, including cousins Thomas Bell and Jerry Bell, who are unemployed, taking care of two children, ages 10 and 12, in their home.
Chrystal Mills also got a surprise knock on her door from Hamp. Soon after suffering a stroke, she was unable to resume work as a health caregiver because of the virus outbreak. She is also raising four children.
“At first everything hit me like a hammer. We are managing, we are scraping by, but it’s frustrating,” Mills said. “The food is a boost, and the help says a lot about the community,” she said.
Lewis says whatever unfolds in Tunica in regards to the virus, officers are committed to be a critical resource for residents. “We are open to help, whatever happens,” he said.