Veterans line up for Thanksgiving dinners
By Linda A. Moore, The Daily Memphian
After the dignitaries, corporate executives, nonprofit leaders spoke and an R&B singer serenaded the gathering, cars lined up in the rain at nearly every entrance to the Fairgrounds Thursday to receive the food they’ll need for a Thanksgiving dinner, complete with two slabs of ribs.
Those cars were filled with pre-screened veterans who struggle with food insecurity and were there to receive the blue bags of free food from Kroger and Smithfield Foods, in partnership with the Mid-South Food Bank and Alpha Omega Veterans Services.
Kendrick Smith puts last-minute touches on the more than 2,000 Thanksgiving meals Smithfield Foods, Kroger and the Mid-South Food Bank teamed up to donate to veterans in Memphis at Tiger Lane on Nov. 21, 2019. (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)
This is the fourth year for the event, which was started by Mayor Jim Strickland as a way to “serve those who served us.”
“We all know veterans in our lives. And most of them have gone on to successful lives. But there’re others who’ve really struggled. They’re homeless, drug addicted or just poor, living in poverty. And if they’ve served us, we need to help them,” Strickland said.
Alpha Omega is a nonprofit organization that serves homeless and disabled military veterans, with six facilities in Memphis that provide both transitional supportive housing and permanent supportive housing, said Cordell Walker, its executive director.
“In my opinion, if one veteran is hungry, all of us are hungry. There are a lot of veterans that don’t really like making it known that they’re indigent or homeless or that they’re having problems. And this way we know that we can afford veterans the opportunity to have a good holiday meal,” Walker said.
Travis Johnson is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and is a graduate of the Alpha Omega program. He took bags from the event to deliver to veterans who didn’t have transportation to the Fairgrounds.
“It just shows that somebody still cares. After all we’ve been through, some of us feel like we’ve been forgotten,” said Johnson, who now volunteers with Alpha Omega.
Kevin Ferrell is a U.S. Army veteran who served in the U.S. invasion of Grenada and is now a counselor with the agency.
“It’s like twofold. It lets them know that people care about them and then it also gives them an opportunity to provide for their families, especially during the holidays. Sometimes that’s the biggest then you can do is provide a meal for your family. And, sometimes they’re struggling,” Ferrell said.
Martin Busby was homeless for four years before the U.S. Air Force Iraq War veteran became an Alpha Omega “success story.”
“They really helped me a lot. We’ll be eating some of this food. It will go right to our chef. We’ll be eating good,” said Busby, who lives at an Alpha Omega facility.
Smithfield brought in 4,000 slabs of ribs to give the veterans a “Memphis Thanksgiving,” said Jonathan Toms, associate manager of charitable initiatives for Smithfield.
The company has donated to this event for the past three years after Kroger reached out to them for help.
“We work with food banks all across the country to donate food, but to come in and do something like this, specifically for veterans is a unique opportunity that we do just here in Memphis with Kroger,” Toms said.
Kroger has the groceries, but Smithfield brought the “middle of the plate protein.”
Since starting the Helping Hungry Homes program in 2008, the company has donated 140 million servings of protein to food banks and hunger-relief organizations in all 50 states, he said.
The Memphis event grows every year, said Teresa Dickerson, corporate affairs manager for Kroger Delta Division. Last year, Kroger helped 1,500 vets.
“Every year, it’s an opportunity for us to uplift our community. And we’ve had such great feedback from the community about this event that we just can’t stop now. And our veteran population is learning about it and so now they’ve come to depend on it. We appreciate that because one of the things we want to do is end hunger,” Dickerson said.
On Wednesday, volunteers filled the multiple rows of blue bags with non-perishables that include stuffing and cranberry sauce. On Thursday, volunteers from groups that include Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Kroger, the Mid-South Food Bank, Alpha Omega and Memphis police officers shuttled those bags from inside the Pipkin Building to the waiting cars.
As windows were rolled down or doors opened, the volunteers handed over those bags of food to the veterans.
Everything was distributed Thursday to a veteran in need, said Cathy Pope, food bank executive director.
“It’s shocking the way that our veterans are struggling and are hungry and homeless. We have a great partnership with Alpha Omega Veterans Services so we’re partnering to get food to them so that they can serve the veterans every day. But today is so special because it’s a partnership with Smithfield and Kroger to come together to serve the hungry,” Pope said. “Those partnerships are crucial to our community.”
This isn’t just a Memphis issue, veterans are struggling across the country and the nation needs to “step and do better,” Strickland said.
“The fact that they need this help in and of itself is disappointing,” he said. “But what you have to do in that disappointment is step up, serve them and push for the federal government to do even more for veterans.”
Local organizations combat food insecurity with nutritious, free options
By Bianca Phillips, Edible Memphis / Photography by Ziggy Mack
The AutoZone Agency Mart inside the Mid-South Food Bank’s new facility at 3865 South Perkins looks like a small grocery store, its shelves lined with everything from boxes of Minute Rice and jars of Justin’s almond butter to Simple Truth Organic salad dressings and massive cans of boiled peanuts and jellied cranberry sauce.
When Mid-Southerners hold food drives at schools or churches, the Food Bank may only get one can of this or one box of that. Sometimes, they even get a bottle of Bloody Mary mix or a few bars of dark chocolate.
Those random items end up at the Agency Mart, which offers nonprofit food pantries the chance to add a few fun surprises to their regular bulk orders of canned goods and fresh produce. Eventually, the Food Bank plans to open the Agency Mart to individuals in the surrounding neighborhood, which is considered a food desert.
“If you had a peanut butter drive and bring in six pallets of peanut butter, we might put that in our bulk options,” says Perre Magness, former board chair of the Food Bank. “But when we get three random cans of boiled peanuts, they would go here. Someone can use those in a soup kitchen for a snack, but it’s not enough for someone to order.”
The Agency Mart, which has grown substantially in size with the Food Bank’s June move to their new 167,000-square-foot facility, is just one of the many ways the Food Bank distributes food to partner organizations in 31 counties in West Tennessee, North Mississippi and Northeastern Arkansas.
“In our region, there are close to 400,000 people who are food insecure,” Magness says. “That’s one in six people in the Mid-South and one in four children. That’s very high, and it’s higher than the national average.”
The federal government's Healthy People initiative defines food insecurity as “the disruption of food intake or eating patterns because of lack of money and other resources.” Due to the Mid-South’s high level of poverty and income inequality, the Food Bank’s role is crucial in ensuring thousands of people get access to nutritious foods.
“A household with two adults working full-time, minimum-wage jobs is under the federal poverty limit, so they qualify for government food assistance. That’s a $1.47 a person a day. Try making yourself just one meal a day for $1.47. It’s not going to be nutritious,” Magness says. “You can buy a head of cauliflower for $2 or 12 bags of ramen noodles. If you’re feeding a family, what are you going to buy with that $2?”
The Mid-South Food Bank works with multiple partner agencies, including the YMCA of Memphis and the Mid-South and Friends for Life, to distribute food across the region. Additionally, programs like Big Green, which facilitates learning gardens in Shelby County Schools, are helping to ensure that children across the area not only have access to healthy food but also learn how to prepare and enjoy it.
The Mid-South Food Bank
The Mid-South Food Bank has been serving the region for 39 years, and for the last several years, they’ve distributed an average of 16 million pounds of food annually. But thanks to their recent move to the new facility, which is nearly 100,000 square feet larger than the former two warehouses on Dudley Street and Heistan Place combined, they’re hoping to increase that to 25 million pounds annually.
“There’s no limit to the need,” Magness says.
The new $20 million facility not only features an expanded Agency Mart, but it also boasts 11,600 square feet of freezer space and 7,000 square feet of cooler space. The expanded cold storage means the Food Bank can store far more fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as raw meats and dairy products. The Plough Foundation Cool Zone is a massive, walk-in cold storage space, and it’s stocked with pallets and pallets of apples, cabbage, onions and other produce items.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many apples,” says Magness.
“This makes me so happy because I would much rather be feeding people apples than Apple Jacks.”
While the Food Bank will always distribute cereals and canned food items, Magness says they’re hoping the ability to store more fresh items will lead to healthier foods going out of the facility and into agency pantries.
“Currently, about 87 percent of what we distribute falls into USDA guidelines for nutritionally valuable food, but we’d like to be at 100 percent, and we’re moving that way. Having this spaces makes that more possible,” she says.
The Food Bank sources food in many ways. Some is donated through local food drives, but the bulk of the food is purchased at discounted prices through wholesalers, grocery stores and farmers. Every dollar donated to the Food Bank can provide three meals to someone in need.
They work with agencies of any size, from large nonprofits to small mom-and-pop food pantries. Participating agencies are mailed a weekly shopping list, and they place orders for bulk items, such as canned goods and meats. Some pick up on-site, but the Food Bank will deliver to organizations for a small fee. They also offer a mobile service where individuals can pick up sorted boxes of food directly from a truck parked in their neighborhood.
Although the Food Bank is ensuring that healthy foods are distributed to people in need, often the recipients of fresh produce don’t know how to prepare it. The new Food Bank facility has a demonstration kitchen, where they’ll soon begin offering classes on how to prepare meals with fresh produce.
“I went to a food pantry with a huge cabbage distribution once, and the younger people were like, ‘This is weird-looking lettuce.’ Not everyone has had that opportunity to cook with fresh produce, so we want to offer classes to show people what to do,” says Magness.
Additionally, the Food Bank runs several programs to feed kids and seniors. Seniors are identified as the fastest-growing group of those dealing with food insecurity, and more than 29 percent of those receiving assistance from the Food Bank’s partner agencies are seniors over age 60. Through the Food Bank’s Senior Nutrition Program, a month of groceries is delivered to the doors of seniors who may not be able to leave their homes due to health issues.
In the Mid-South Food Bank's service area, 23.3 percent of children are food insecure, according to the latest Map the Meal Gap hunger study. Programs like the Food Bank’s Food for Kids BackPacks offers nutritious foods to kids who don’t typically have access to them.
“We send food home on the weekends for kids who qualify for school lunch,” Magness says. “So many children rely on those free school meals. That’s their main source of nutrition, and they don’t have that on the weekend. It’s also a big problem in the summer, so we do a lot of summer food drives.”
Y on the Fly
While the Food Bank is providing the ingredients to create healthy meals, the YMCA of Memphis and the Mid-South is dishing out prepared meals to “kids who may not know where their next meal is coming from,” says Brian McLaughlin, the regional Y’s senior vice president of operations.
The Y on the Fly program, which brings the YMCA’s services directly into communities, has been around for about three years. One of the program’s primary objectives is providing meal deliveries to apartment communities, at schools after-hours, at community centers and at YMCA facilities. The program provides 6,000 meals a day—dinner and snacks during the school year and breakfast and lunch during the summer—at 150 meal sites.
“In Shelby County Schools, every student qualifies for the reduced meal program, but in other municipalities we serve, like DeSoto County, we have kids who qualify for that and kids who don’t. But we serve every child. If a kid wants a meal, we serve it to them,” McLaughlin says.
Because the program is so vast, McLaughlin says the Y works with numerous partners, including the Mid-South Food Bank, to source food; other partners assist in preparation out of kitchens in high schools and churches. The program is zero waste since leftovers from one location can be served at the next location.
Most days, dishes such as chicken teriyaki with brown rice or Southwest veggie wraps with edamame, are served directly from meal sites, but the Y recently launched a new food truck that makes surprise appearances at various sites.
“With the food truck, kids can have a food experience rather than just being handed food every day,” McLaughlin says.
“They get to pick food off a menu, and we talk about different types of foods. It starts the process of choice, rather than just eating what you’re served.”
The kids actually help the YMCA determine the menus for the truck. McLaughlin says they do “mind mapping” with the kids to determine what they normally eat and what kinds of healthy foods they can easily introduce to the menu.
“Then we can gradually start introducing foods that are healthier. We can’t shock the system with only healthy foods, like hummus and crackers,” he says. “We gradually work them into that, and they eventually make their own menus.”
Kids who haven’t been exposed to healthy foods may be pickier eaters, but McLaughlin says the gradual approach to offering healthier items helps. Recently, he said, a group of kids were offered a side of either mandarin oranges or baked chips, and the oranges “went like crazy over the chips.”
The food truck also has a blender bike, where the pedals power a blender, so kids can create their own smoothies.
Says McLaughlin: “The kids absolutely love it. They’re making a smoothie, and the next thing we know, they’re like, ‘Oh, let’s put kale in here!’”
On March 20 of this year, the first day of spring, students from Crosstown High got their first chance to plant tomatoes, kale, herbs and sunflowers in their new Big Green Learning Garden. The ninth graders took turns pouring soil into raised beds and planting seedlings. At the height of summer, the garden was bursting with juicy cherry tomatoes and curly heads of kale.
Big Green is a national nonprofit—founded by The Kitchen/Next Door American Eatery restaurateur Kimbal Musk and The Kitchen chef Hugo Matheson—that works to promote youth wellness by connecting kids to real food. Nationally, they’ve built around 600 learning gardens in schools, with 128 of those in Shelby County Schools.
Marie Dennan is the local program manager for Big Green and works out of the Memphis office.
“Our national goal is to work with schools with a 60 percent or more free or reduced lunch percentage, but in Memphis and Shelby County, that’s 100 percent,” says Dennan. “We will work with any Shelby County School (SCS) or any charter that falls under SCS and wants a garden. They have to apply and identify a garden team made up of teachers, and sometimes parents or community members, who will care for the garden.”
Big Green provides free seedlings based on a planting plan that identifies vegetables and flowers that will grow to fruition during the course of the school year. That way, the students get the satisfaction of harvesting what they plant before winter or summer breaks. However, schools are welcome to plant whatever they want and aren’t restricted to that plan.
In Shelby County, the free seedlings include lettuce, turnips, radishes, carrots, beets, kale, collards, mustard greens, Swiss chard, onions, flowers, herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, basil, sunflowers, sweet potatoes and cowpeas. Those seedlings are procured from two local farmers—Dennis O’Bryan from One Wheel Market Garden and Chris Peterson from the Alpha Omega Veterans Services urban farm.
Last year, students from the 128 gardens at Shelby County Schools harvested 2,000 pounds of food. After harvest, the students have the chance to eat the food in a number of ways.
“The most common consumption would be that teachers harvest with their students, and the students bring the food home. We also have teachers incorporate the food into the classroom,” Dennan says.
Big Green hosts workshops for teachers, where they share produce recipes that don’t involve cooking, making them easy to reproduce in classrooms. Some school cafeterias will use the produce to create healthy snacks for the kids, but Dennan says that’s less common due to restrictions on what schools that meet reduced or free lunch criteria can serve.
“With those schools, every meal served has a dollar value attached, and it has to meet certain nutritional requirements. So bringing produce into that mix can be cumbersome for the cafeteria to figure out,” Dennan says. “That’s something the district needs to work on.”
Many students start out with reservations about eating vegetables, but Dennan says that tends to change by harvest time.
At a recent Big Green pizza cooking demonstration at the Church Health Nutrition Hub, students from Southwind High, Ridgeway High and Soulsville Charter brought peppers and tomatoes (for pizza) and cucumbers and carrots (for salad) from their gardens, and they created their own pizzas.
“At the end of that field trip, [the instructors from Church Health] said they were amazed at how many vegetables the students were loading up on their pizzas,” Dennan said.
“They said they do this pizza class often with different groups, and they have never seen a group put so many vegetables on their pizza.”
Big Green has a goal to build 15 more learning gardens in local schools this school year, and they’re planning to expand their food demonstration workshops so more schools and parents can learn how to use the produce.
Friends for Life
Agencies across the Mid-South provide food to populations with special needs and considerations. One of those is Friends for Life (FFL), which helps prevent the spread of HIV by helping those living with HIV/AIDS live well. Friends for Life’s food pantry program complements its other services, which provide everything from housing to medical access to HIV prevention.
The food pantry serves about 520 clients each month. Any client with an updated Ryan White card can pick up a monthly box of nonperishables, produce and meats. The federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS program provides financial assistance with medical and non-medical services.
“Their Ryan White card has to be updated because, if it’s not, it means they’re not going to the doctor like they’re supposed to.”
“The food is an incentive for going to the doctor,” says FFL nutrition coordinator Cymone Merritt.
Merritt says a monthly pickup contains dry goods, such as canned goods, peanut butter, dry beans and oatmeal; a produce bag with about $25 worth of fresh fruits and vegetables; and a supply of meat.
“In August, that’s a five-pound turkey leg and three pounds of ground beef,” Merritt says. “The meat changes with the season. In July, everybody gets a 15-pound pack of ribs. Around Thanksgiving they’ll get a turkey, and December, they know to look forward to a ham.”
Some of the food is sourced from the Mid-South Food Bank, and other items are purchased from local grocery stores and wholesalers.
“Sometimes there’s one thing in the produce bag, like zucchini, that they don’t normally cook. We might have figs or pistachios. We try to give them new things to try out,” Merritt says. “Everybody loves the greens and yams. And they look forward to the fruit, and that’s the only fresh fruit they may get.”
An on-site dietician provides classes using some of the items, and Merritt says she posts recipes in the pantry each month.
Organizations like Friends for Life, Big Green and the YMCA are just a few examples of the hundreds of nonprofits that provide access to nutritious foods to combat the Mid-South’s massive food insecurity problem. Magness with the Food Bank says anyone in the Mid-South can do their part by volunteering at the Food Bank or holding a food drive at a private or public event. At the end of the day, food insecurity is everyone’s problem, she says.
“You might think hunger happens to other people, but it impacts us all,” Magness says.
“For example, someone experiencing food insecurity may develop health problems due to their lack of nutrition. And then they can’t work because of those health problems, and that, in turn, affects our economy.”
Bianca Phillips writes about vegan food (and shares images of everything she eats) on her blog, Vegan Crunk. She's the author of Cookin' Crunk: Eatin' Vegan in the Dirty South. By day, she works as the communications coordinator for Crosstown Arts/Crosstown Concourse. She and her partner, Paul, are the proud parents of five cats and one very stubborn (but adorable) pit bull. @biancaphillips
Ziggy Mack is an internationally published photographer about town. When not immortalizing the movements of ballerinas, circus performers and mermaids, he spends his time finding candid moments involving delectable cuisines and the people that create them. @fomoloop
Diaper bank will address families’ needs in Shelby County
By Christin Yates, The Daily Memphian
The Mid-South Food Bank has partnered with the Urban Child Institute to help low-income parents and women in Shelby County by providing diapers and feminine care products through a new program called the Bare Needs Diaper Bank.
The diaper bank started last year as a small project within the institute and later moved to the Food Bank, where it has been named Bare Needs. An institute grant will fund diaper bank operations.
“It’s becoming an official program of Mid-South Food Bank with space in our new building,” said Shari Douglas, director of the Bare Needs Diaper Bank.
There is currently no organization in Memphis providing diapers and diaper products free of charge on a scale large enough to make a significant impact, according to Mid-South Food Bank president and CEO Cathy Pope.
"Without access to these essential supplies, low-income families and women have to make difficult choices regarding use of limited resources,” Pope said.
In Shelby County, roughly 14,000 babies from newborn to age 3 live in households below the federal poverty income line of $25,750 for a family of four. A newborn requires seven to 12 diapers per day, with older toddlers needing up to six. The cost of diapers and diaper supplies can often lead to babies not being changed as often as necessary, increasing the risk for infections and rashes.
“We see it (Bare Needs Diaper Bank) as an important thing, because diapers are a necessity that are often forgotten about when you think of basic needs of a family,” Dominique DeFreece, special projects coordinator of the Urban Child Institute, said.
There are organizations that give out food, clothing, shelter and transportation, DeFreece noted, but for families who are living in poverty, diapers are often left out of that equation.
“Having a diaper bank gives families access to a product they can’t get through other channels,” DeFreece said.
The program will distribute products by partnering with local nonprofits and by making them available through the Food Bank's partner agency network of food pantries, shelters, youth programs and other agencies distributing food and non-food items to qualified low-income families and individuals.
Diapers and feminine products will be listed on the Food Bank's weekly shopping list. Agencies will then be able to pick them up from the Food Bank or may arrange for delivery if sufficient quantities are ordered.
The Bare Needs Diaper Bank only provides disposable diapers, not reusable cloth diapers, because all day care centers require parents to furnish disposable diapers as a condition of child care. Also, the cost of using commercial laundries for a high volume of cloth diapers is prohibitive and most laundromats prohibit customers from using their machines for cloth diapers.
The Mid-South Food Bank has become a member of the National Diaper Bank Network, giving it access to truckload and bulk rates for diapers and diaper products. The Bare Needs Diaper Bank director will work with an advisory board that includes representatives from the Urban Child Institute and other organizations.
“There’s no government assistance programs that directly fund diapers,” DeFreece said. “You can’t use WIC dollars for diapers and there’s no government or supplemental equivalent to that. Families have to find a way to pay for these products, and it can get really expensive, up to $100 a month.”
DeFreece said the cost could mean a family has to choose between paying for food or rent or diapers.
With an official kickoff scheduled Saturday, Sept. 21, from 1-4 p.m. during National Diaper Need Awareness Week, the Bare Needs Diaper Bank will host diaper drives and diaper challenges hoping other organizations get involved throughout the week.
Starving seniors: How America Fails to feed its aging
By Laura Ungar and Trudy Lieberman, Kaiser Health News
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Army veteran Eugene Milligan is 75 years old and blind. He uses a wheelchair since losing half his right leg to diabetes and gets dialysis for kidney failure.
And he has struggled to get enough to eat.
Earlier this year, he ended up in the hospital after burning himself while boiling water for oatmeal. The long stay caused the Memphis vet to fall off a charity’s rolls for home-delivered Meals on Wheels, so he had to rely on others, such as his son, a generous off-duty nurse and a local church to bring him food.
“Many times, I’ve felt like I was starving,” he said. “There’s neighbors that need food too. There’s people at dialysis that need food. There’s hunger everywhere.”
Indeed, millions of seniors across the country quietly go hungry as the safety net designed to catch them frays. Nearly 8% of Americans 60 and older were “food insecure” in 2017, according to a recent study released by the anti-hunger group Feeding America. That’s 5.5 million seniors who don’t have consistent access to enough food for a healthy life, a number that has more than doubled since 2001 and is only expected to grow as America grays.
While the plight of hungry children elicits support and can be tackled in schools, the plight of hungry older Americans is shrouded by isolation and a generation’s pride. The problem is most acute in parts of the South and Southwest. Louisiana has the highest rate among states, with 12% of seniors facing food insecurity. Memphis fares worst among major metropolitan areas, with 17% of seniors like Milligan unsure of their next meal.
And government relief falls short. One of the main federal programs helping seniors is starved for money. The Older Americans Act — passed more than half a century ago as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society reforms — was amended in 1972 to provide for home-delivered and group meals, along with other services, for anyone 60 and older. But its funding has lagged far behind senior population growth, as well as economic inflation.
The biggest chunk of the act’s budget, nutrition services, dropped by 8% over the past 18 years when adjusted for inflation, an AARP report found in February. Home-delivered and group meals have decreased by nearly 21 million since 2005. Only a fraction of those facing food insecurity get any meal services under the act; a U.S. Government Accountability Office report examining 2013 data found 83% got none.
With the act set to expire Sept. 30, Congress is now considering its reauthorization and how much to spend going forward.
Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, only 45% of eligible adults 60 and older have signed up for another source of federal aid: SNAP, the food stamp program for America’s poorest. Those who don’t are typically either unaware they could qualify, believe their benefits would be tiny or can no longer get to a grocery store to use them.
Even fewer seniors may have SNAP in the future. More than 13% of SNAP households with elderly members would lose benefits under a recent Trump administration proposal.
For now, millions of seniors — especially low-income ones — go without. Across the nation, waits are common to receive home-delivered meals from a crucial provider, Meals on Wheels, a network of 5,000 community-based programs. In Memphis, for example, the wait to get on the Meals on Wheels schedule is more than a year long.
“It’s really sad because a meal is not an expensive thing,” said Sally Jones Heinz, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association, which provides home-delivered meals in Memphis. ”This shouldn’t be the way things are in 2019.”
Since malnutrition exacerbates diseases and prevents healing, seniors without steady, nutritious food can wind up in hospitals, which drives up Medicare and Medicaid costs, hitting taxpayers with an even bigger bill. Sometimes seniors relapse quickly after discharge — or worse.
Widower Robert Mukes, 71, starved to death on a cold December day in 2016, alone in his Cincinnati apartment.
The Hamilton County Coroner listed the primary cause of death as “starvation of unknown etiology” and noted “possible hypothermia,” pointing out that his apartment had no electricity or running water. Death records show the 5-foot-7-inch man weighed just 100.5 pounds.
A Clear Need
On a hot May morning in Memphis, seniors trickled into a food bank at the Riverside Missionary Baptist Church, 3 miles from the opulent tourist mecca of Graceland. They picked up boxes packed with canned goods, rice, vegetables and meat.
Marion Thomas, 63, placed her box in the trunk of a friend’s car. She lives with chronic back pain and high blood pressure and started coming to the pantry three years ago. She’s disabled, relies on Social Security and gets $42 a month from SNAP based on her income, household size and other factors. That’s much less than the average $125-a-month benefit for households with seniors, but more than the $16 minimum that one in five such households get. Still, Thomas said, “I can’t buy very much.”
A day later, the Mid-South Food Bank brought a “mobile pantry” to Latham Terrace, a senior housing complex, where a long line of people waited. Some inched forward in wheelchairs; others leaned on canes. One by one, they collected their allotments.
The need is just as real elsewhere. In Dallas, Texas, 69-year-old China Anderson squirrels away milk, cookies and other parts of her home-delivered lunches for dinner because she can no longer stand and cook due to scoliosis and eight deteriorating vertebral discs.
As seniors ration food, programs ration services.
Although more than a third of the Meals on Wheels money comes from the Older Americans Act, even with additional public and private dollars, funds are still so limited that some programs have no choice but to triage people using score sheets that assign points based on who needs food the most. Seniors coming from the hospital and those without family usually top waiting lists.
More than 1,000 were waiting on the Memphis area’s list recently. And in Dallas, $4.1 million in donations wiped out a 1,000-person waiting list in December, but within months it had crept back up to 100.
Nationally, “there are tens of thousands of seniors who are waiting,” said Erika Kelly, chief membership and advocacy officer for Meals on Wheels America. “While they’re waiting, their health deteriorates and, in some cases, we know seniors have died.”
Edwin Walker, a deputy assistant secretary for the federal Administration on Aging, acknowledged waits are a long-standing problem, but said 2.4 million people a year benefit from the Older Americans Act’s group or home-delivered meals, allowing them to stay independent and healthy.
Seniors get human connection, as well as food, from these services. Aner Lee Murphy, a 102-year-old Meals on Wheels client in Memphis, counts on the visits with volunteers Libby and Bob Anderson almost as much as the food. She calls them “my children,” hugging them close and offering a prayer each time they leave.
But others miss out on such physical and psychological nourishment. A devastating phone call brought that home for Kim Daugherty, executive director of the Aging Commission of the Mid-South, which connects seniors to service providers in the region. The woman on the line told Daugherty she’d been on the waiting list for more than a year.
“Ma’am, there are several hundred people ahead of you,” Daugherty reluctantly explained.
“I just need you all to remember,” came the caller’s haunting reply, “I’m hungry and I need food.”
A Slow Killer
James Ziliak, a poverty researcher at the University of Kentucky who worked on the Feeding America study, said food insecurity shot up with the Great Recession, starting in the late 2000s, and peaked in 2014. He said it shows no signs of dropping to pre-recession levels.
While older adults of all income levels can face difficulty accessing and preparing healthy food, rates are highest among seniors in poverty. They are also high among minorities. More than 17% of black seniors and 16% of Hispanic seniors are food insecure, compared with fewer than 7% of white seniors.
A host of issues combine to set those seniors on a downward spiral, said registered dietitian Lauri Wright, who chairs the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of North Florida. Going to the grocery store gets a lot harder if they can’t drive. Expensive medications leave less money for food. Chronic physical and mental health problems sap stamina and make it tough to cook. Inch by inch, hungry seniors decline.
And, even if it rarely kills directly, hunger can complicate illness and kill slowly.
Malnutrition blunts immunity, which already tends to weaken as people age. Once they start losing weight, they’re more likely to grow frail and are more likely to die within a year, said Dr. John Morley, director of the division of geriatric medicine at Saint Louis University.
Seniors just out of the hospital are particularly vulnerable. Many wind up getting readmitted, pushing up taxpayers’ costs for Medicare and Medicaid. Arecent analysis by the Bipartisan Policy Center found that Medicare could save $1.57 for every dollar spent on home-delivered meals for chronically ill seniors after a hospitalization.
Most hospitals don’t refer senior outpatients to Meals on Wheels, and advocates say too few insurance companies get involved in making sure seniors have enough to eat to keep them healthy.
“Many times, I’ve felt like I was starving,” says Milligan who is blind, lost half his right leg to diabetes, gets dialysis for kidney failure and has struggled to get enough to eat at his Memphis home.(ANDREA MORALES FOR KHN)
When Milligan, the Memphis veteran, burned himself with boiling water last winter and had to be hospitalized for 65 days, he fell off the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association’s radar. The meals he’d been getting for about a decade stopped.
Heinz, Metropolitan’s CEO, said the association is usually able to start and stop meals for short hospital stays. But, Heinz said, the association didn’t hear from Milligan and kept trying to deliver meals for a time while he was in the hospital, then notified the Aging Commission of the Mid-South he wasn’t home. As is standard procedure, Metropolitan officials said, a staff member from the commission made three attempts to contact him and left a card at the blind man’s home.
But nothing happened when he got out of the hospital this spring. In mid-May, a nurse referred him for meal delivery. Still, he didn’t get meals because he faced a waitlist already more than 1,000 names long.
After questions from Kaiser Health News, Heinz looked into Milligan’s case and realized that, as a former client, Milligan could get back on the delivery schedule faster.
But even then the process still has hurdles: The aging commission would need to conduct a new home assessment for meals to resume. That has yet to happen because, amid the wait, Milligan’s health deteriorated.
A Murky Future
As the Older Americans Act awaits reauthorization this fall, many senior advocates worry about its funding.
In June, the U.S. House passed a $93 million increase to the Older Americans Act‘s nutrition programs, raising total funding by about 10% to $1 billion in the next fiscal year. In inflation-adjusted dollars, that’s still less than in 2009. And it still has to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate, where the proposed increase faces long odds.
U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, an Oregon Democrat who chairs the Civil Rights and Human Services Subcommittee, expects the panel to tackle legislation for reauthorization of the act soon after members return from the August recess. She’s now working with colleagues “to craft a strong, bipartisan update,” she said, that increases investments in nutrition programs as well as other services.
“I’m confident the House will soon pass a robust bill,” she said, “and I am hopeful that the Senate will also move quickly so we can better meet the needs of our seniors.”
In the meantime, “the need for home-delivered meals keeps increasing every year,” said Lorena Fernandez, who runs a meal delivery program in Yakima, Wash. Activists are pressing state and local governments to ensure seniors don’t starve, with mixed results. In Louisiana, for example, anti-hunger advocates stood on the state Capitol steps in May and unsuccessfully called on the state to invest $1 million to buy food from Louisiana farmers to distribute to hungry residents. Elsewhere, senior activists across the nation have participated each March in “March for Meals” events such as walks, fundraisers and rallies designed to focus attention on the problem.
Private fundraising hasn’t been easy everywhere, especially rural communities without much wealth. Philanthropy has instead tended to flow to hungry kids, who outnumber hungry seniors more than 2-to-1, according to Feeding America.
“Ten years ago, organizations had a goal of ending child hunger and a lot of innovation and resources went into what could be done,” said Jeremy Everett, executive director of Baylor University’s Texas Hunger Initiative. “The same thing has not happened in the senior adult population.” And that has left people struggling for enough food to eat.
As for Milligan, he didn’t get back on Meals on Wheels before suffering complications related to his dialysis in June. He ended up back in the hospital. Ironically, it was there that he finally had a steady, if temporary, source of food.
It’s impossible to know if his time without steady, nutritious food made a difference. What is almost certain is that feeding him at home would have been far cheaper.
By Tom Bailey, The Daily Memphian
On a reconnaissance mission, church food pantry volunteer Warren Morrison on Monday slowly drove his pickup around the massive new Mid-South Food Bank headquarters that officially opens this week in southeast Memphis.
His mission: learn exactly what part of the 167,000-square-foot building to enter when it’s time to pick up food for the St. Luke’s United Methodist Church food pantry.
“You don’t want to be wandering around out here with a trailer on the back of your truck trying to figure out where you want to go,” Morrison said before entering the tan-and-brown building to ask directions.
The Mid-South Food Bank knows exactly where it wants to go now that the nonprofit has more than doubled its space for storing and handling food.
“Our goal is to (distribute) no less than 25 million pounds a year,” said president and chief executive Estella Mayhue-Greer.
That would be a 67% increase over the 15 million pounds of food distributed by the organization during the last fiscal year.
The organization, which annually serves 200,000 food-insecure Mid-Southerners across 31 counties, has finished the yearlong renovation of the warehouse it purchased in 2012 at 3865 S. Perkins Road. The grand opening celebration will be Thursday, July 11.
The project represents a $21.5 million investment in the purchase and renovation of the warehouse.
The new facility replaces two smaller, much older warehouses in the Medical District and South Memphis. Together, the smaller warehouses totaled 63,556 square feet, Mayhue-Greer said.
Mid-South Food Bank operates three major programs: Feeding Families, Feeding Seniors and Feeding Children. It operates with a $5 million budget, 52 employees and many more volunteers.
“Our volunteers are awesome,” Mayhue-Greer said. “I can’t begin to count them. They help us sort and pack food.
“International Paper employees come to us monthly. FedEx workers. (This week) AutoZone has 100 volunteers helping us finish organizing and moving.”
The old facilities could accommodate 40 to 50 volunteers at a time. The new headquarters will easily handle 100 to 150 volunteers, said Clifton Rocket, director of volunteer services.
Monday morning, the Germantown United Methodist youth group, longtime volunteers, took a tour of the new place.
“They were amazed,” Rocket said. “They were so excited.”
The renovation designed by Pickering provides the transparency that Mayhue-Greer requested.
Visitors stepping through the front door into the lobby can see, straight ahead, an expansive view through glass walls of the 60,000-square-foot dry storage room. To their right is the view into the large conference room.
“People always talk about nonprofits not being transparent,” Mayhue-Greer said. “You walk in that front door and you see right into the warehouse and you know we’re food distribution. Our boardroom has a glass front. ...
“If you stand in the office space you see into the warehouse. If you are standing in the break room you see into the offices and the warehouse,” she said.
She’s just as transparent about her frustrations over not having had the capacity to help more people. Surveys show that Mid-South Food Bank’s 31-county service area – 18 in North Mississippi, 12 in West Tennessee, and Crittenden County, Arkansas – have 380,000 residents who are food insecure.
“Imagine the frustration when you know there are 400,000 people out there facing food insecurity and you are only helping half of them,” Mayhue-Greer said.
The organization’s lack of capacity has held it back.
“We had a donor that wanted to give us a truckload of meat,” she said. “We didn’t have the freezer capacity to store it. That’s a lot of meat and protein we had to turn down. We’ve had to turn down a lot of refrigerated and frozen products because we didn’t have capacity."
Capacity is no longer a problem.
The new facility includes 11,665 square feet of freezer space and 7,088 square feet of cooler space. That 18,753 square feet of combined freezer/cooler space compares to 11,000 square feet total at the old warehouses.
Members of the organization’s facilities committee, comprising experts from AutoZone, FedEx and Kroger, traveled to newer food banks in the U.S. with one question in mind: If you had to rebuild your facilities, how would you do it differently?
“They said, ‘We would have more cooler and freezer space because products have shifted from nonperishable to more perishable products,’” Mayhue-Greer said.
The shift represents food banks’ growing emphasis on healthier eating and fresh food.
Mid-South Food Bank’s new building is bigger than the organization needs now, so it has 68,380 square feet available to lease to a tenant. Eventually, the organization can expand there if needed.
Meanwhile, food is gradually being brought into the new headquarters. Among the products waiting this week to be placed in the new, 20-foot-high racks were 29 pallets of Tapatio Ramen Noodle Soup, about 26,000 bowls of it.
About 745 pounds of snack boxes, including ginger snap cookies and Honey Maid S’mores, were labeled for Brownsville residents. Boxes of Triscuit crackers – 615 pounds' worth – were marked for distribution by Sacred Heart in Walls, Mississippi.
“We serve almost 300 food pantries,” said Andrew Bell, the organization’s communications manager. “Down to Tupelo and up to the Kentucky line.”
'901 Interns’ Help Out Across the City
By Kelly Roberts | Action News 5
Interns from some of Memphis’ top companies spent time helping out across the city Friday.
It was quick work, but not the work those young people are used to doing day in and day out.
Instead of pitching ideas in the board room, they packed up necessities for the troops and the hungry.
About 400 interns from FedEx, AutoZone, International Paper and First Tennessee Bank were at 10 locations across the city Friday for “901ntern Day.”
At the University of Memphis’ Rose Theater, interns put together toiletry packs for the USO.
Nearby at the University Center, they packed up food for the Mid-South Food Bank.
“I always loved packing food boxes and giving back and making sure everyone is fed. That's so important and something we take for granted,” said Sara Boscarino, International Paper intern.
It was all done, side by side, with their counterpart from a different company.
“That was the goal, to have everyone mixed up. I can meet someone from First Tennessee or AutoZone today and make a connection,” said Elizabeth Wisdom, FedEx intern.
“We got to intermingle and kind of compare different things we're doing, different projects we're working on. It's cool to see different sides and how everyone kind of does things differently, but we all have the same goals,” said Boscarino.
While the networking can help the interns later in their careers, the company execs say the volunteerism can help too.
“This is the next generation and current generation of employees, it’s what our AutoZoners want to see. They want to be engaged they want to be giving back,” said David McKinney, AutoZone.
Health insurance company strives to change outcomes by supporting nonprofits
By Michelle Corbet / The Daily Memphian
Two brightly colored vans were parked outside of the Greater Memphis Chamber offices Downtown Monday morning.
The mobile units are part of the “Y on the Fly” program that brings resources such as healthy meals, activities and even swimming lessons to communities that do not have a YMCA nearby.
The mobile cafeteria and mobile Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) lab — complete with library and 3-D printer — are part of what was made possible by UnitedHealthcare’s $1 million local investment to address the social determinants of health.
At Monday’s press conference announcing the investment, Steve Wilson, CEO of UnitedHealthcare of Tennessee, said navigating health is much more than medical care, noting 80% of what impacts a person’s health happens outside the doctor’s office.
That’s why the health insurance company, which is increasingly focusing on well-being, is donating $1 million to seven Memphis-area nonprofits.
The grants will support a range of needs in Memphis and Shelby County including dental care, transportation, hunger, youth health and physical activity.
“By being dedicated to working together, the seven nonprofits will achieve even greater outcomes than working individually,” Wilson said.
Local grant recipients:
- Mid-South Food Bank – $500,000 to purchase two trucks to launch a mobile food pantry and increase access to fresh foods at area schools through its Healthy School Pantry programs.
- Church Health – $90,000 to purchase specialized dental equipment for the volunteer dentists who treat the working uninsured.
- Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association – $90,000 to deliver meals to seniors for a year through MIFA’s Meals on Wheels program.
- Regional One Health – $90,000 to launch a food pantry at its outpatient clinic and provide shelf foods, fresh fruit and vegetable vouchers to the uninsured or those enrolled in TennCare or Medicaid who face food insecurity.
- Shelby County Education Foundation – $90,000 to purchase hygiene and personal-care products for disadvantaged children in the public school system.
- YMCA of Memphis and the Mid-South – $90,000 to launch the “Y on the Fly” program by purchasing a mobile unit to deliver healthy food for youth and a mobile library in the area of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.
- Christ Community Health Services – $50,000 to provide preventative and restorative dental care to uninsured students, the homeless and expectant mothers.
UnitedHealthcare evaluated proposals from local nonprofits through an independent committee in Nashville.
Not all of the submitted applications received grant funds, but UnitedHealthcare continues to evaluate requests to see how it can further support the Memphis community.
“For me, I spend a lot of time in the Memphis community, so I know there’s a lot of need,” said Keith Payet, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Tennessee. “As a CEO for UnitedHealthcare I say to myself, ‘How can we make an impact?’ It’s not just about the people we serve, it’s about the communities we’re connecting and collaborating with. We’ll definitely be back.”
The grant is part of UnitedHealthcare’s Empowering Health program, which focuses on redefining health access and addressing the social determinants of health through investments, innovation and volunteerism.
“We’re trying to not only improve on health, but also improve on wellness programs; address those social determinants of health that aren’t conventionally covered under traditional health insurance,” Payet said. “We know there’s food insecurity and seniors who have additional needs and a lot of individuals who are underserved, so we’re trying to support them as much as we can.”
Shelby County ranked 90th out of Tennessee’s 95 counties in the most recent county health rankings issued annually by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which looks at social and economic health factors such as income, education, employment, community safety and social support services.
“Government cannot solve all the challenges Memphis faces by ourselves. City, county, state — we don’t have enough resources to do that. That’s where these nonprofits play such a huge role,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. “Beyond generous funding, your vision of bringing like-minded community organizations together will make an even stronger impact than they could have alone. Working together is key.”
Beverly Robertson, president and CEO of the Greater Memphis Chamber, is not proud that the Memphis MSA ranked No. 3 on Wallet Hub’s listing of the “Fattest Cities in the U.S.” this March.
As Memphians become healthier, the cost of insurance for local businesses will go down exponentially, Robertson said.
“At the Chamber, we are focused on working to create economic prosperity for all,” she said. “We understand that having a healthy population is a key contributor to the economic growth of our community.”
Gathering places for seniors ideal for helping them enroll in SNAP | Opinion
By The Rev. Dr. G. Scott Morris, M.D., founder and chief executive officer of Church Health.
Your mother told you, “You are what you eat,” and she was right. At Church Health, we embrace the idea that food is medicine. Unfortunately, by watching TV, we could be convinced that without pharmaceutical drugs, we couldn’t possibly live whole, healthy lives.
I caution you: Many drugs work by preventing your body from doing something it is naturally trying to do. You must be pretty doggone smart to override the body the way God created it.
Don’t get me wrong. I prescribe pharmaceuticals for patients every day. But if I can treat a problem with food first, that is in the patient’s best interest. Here is a real problem: For many of our frail elderly, drugs are easier to access than healthy food.
These days, thanks to Medicare Part D and Medicaid, most poor elderly folks have a means to acquire pharmaceuticals. But purchasing food is far more complicated. Here is why.
In 2019, an elderly person living only on Social Security benefits — very common in Memphis — might receive a maximum monthly payment of $771. The average American spends $550 a month on food. I am sure you see the problem. There are more costs of living than just food. So what do poor people do? They spend as little as they can on everything, including food.
But if food is medicine, the corollary also applies. A lack of food leads to ill health. In our Church Health clinic, we frequently see older people who are not eating enough healthy food to maintain their health.
Thank God for the Mid-South Food Bank and MIFA’s Meals on Wheels program! However, both organizations can only partially address the widespread need.
One government program, however, can help with providing food for our elderly citizens. It is called SNAP. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the replacement for what had been known as food stamps, allows the elderly — based on financial need — to purchase food in a grocery store or even a farmers’ market. A complicated formula determines a person’s eligibility for SNAP, but once qualified, an individual may receive up to $192 a month in food assistance. Most people get less, but every dollar helps.
The problem is that in Tennessee, 44% of the frail elderly who qualify for the program don’t even know it exists. I suspect you did not know this either. That is 152,000 people across our state, including many in Shelby County.
What if every church, everyplace where seniors gather, made sure that those who are eligible get signed up for their SNAP assistance? It would make a difference. It’s not hard, and older folks often need help with things like this. To learn more how to do this, go to the website of the Food Research & Action Center or the Tennessee Justice Center.
The benefits of food, of course, are more than just the nutrition it provides. Preparing and eating food bring joy, community and fellowship.
In Memphis, no one should struggle to have enough food to eat. I hope having our frail elderly access food and the benefits of SNAP are things on which we should all agree.
The Rev. Dr. G. Scott Morris, M.D., is founder and chief executive officer of Church Health.
Baldwyn students Christmas food bags tide families over for holiday break
By Cristina Carreon Daily Journal
Prentiss County students and their families lined up at the bus entrance at Baldwyn Middle School to receive boxes and bags of fresh produce and food during the second in-school food pantry distribution day.
“This is available to any kid in the school district. It’s paid for through a Foodcorp grant, and it will really help our families,” said Baldwyn Schools Assistant Superintendent Raymond Craven. “During the day, they are not going get anything done in school if you’ve got kids who are hungry, so we are trying to fulfill some of the physical needs so we can attack some of the mental needs.”
Craven said the school district’s goal is to provide enough food for 200 students per month.
The Baldwyn Bearcats Market started in November with 75 students served a box of food around the time of Thanksgiving. On Thursday, volunteers prepared enough food for 150 people.
“The program in Baldwyn had an incredible start with over 100 students and families registering and with 86 actually picking up the food,” Hunger Coalition Executive Director Jason Martin said. “We expect the number to grow as the word gets out and the families realize how much food is in the box.”
The WAVE Market was established earlier this year at Tupelo Middle School to supplement students’ nutrition at home.
The Hunger Coalition did not provide financial assistance for the program but helped coordinate the Baldwyn pantry and provided food boxes to kids kindergarten through eighth grade. Funding for the Bearcats Market came from local company Caterpillar, which gave funds to the Mid-South Food Bank to provide food specifically to Prentiss County.
“They have given money to the Mid-South Food Bank to provide families with food in Prentiss County,” Martin said.
The Baldwyn Bearcats Market is almost exactly the same as the TMS WAVE Market, except that Baldwyn’s in-school food pantry is also supported by two local churches.
“The idea was generated after numerous conversations with backpack program volunteers and the food bank. There’s not a single person that deserves credit, as all of this work has been a collective effort,” Martin said.
The Orchard Northside Church pastor Jay Stanley has volunteered with other members of the church to help launch Baldwyn’s food giveaways and said many families that attend the church come from the Baldwyn area.
“We serve three communities, Saltillo, Guntown and Baldwyn,” Stanley said, adding there are at least four more sites where there are plans to create additional in-school food pantries.
Orchard church volunteer Shelaine Pennington said the packing day was going well due to improved organization.
“Today we have fruit and cabbage along with the canned goods, and we’re hoping it will get them through the Christmas break,” Pennington said. “Our goal is to do this once a month and hopefully that increases further down the road.
“It’s an honor to me, to be able to help, and the thing is, so many times we don’t really think of people being in need and this kind of hits home when you see the cars lined up and you realize that we’re doing something good.”
There are plans to attempt to take the project to every middle school and high school in Lee County.
“We anticipate two more in-school pantries to be started in 2019,” Martin said.
Even though the Tupelo/Lee County Hunger Coalition did not provide funds for the Baldwyn food giveaway on Thursday, as of early December, the Coalition’s board partnered with United Way of Northeast Mississippi and Families First for Mississippi to provide a few grants to organizations currently serving food insecure residents in Lee County.
In October, grants were given to the Junior Auxiliary Backpack program, First United Methodist Church Backpack Program, Plantersville United Methodist Church Backpack Program, Brewer United Methodist Church Backpack Program, West Main Church of Christ Backpack Program, Auburn Baptist Church Backpack Program and Global Outreach Backpack Program, in amounts ranging from $500 to $3,000.
The grants were given to provide food insecure Lee County children with enough food to tide them over during the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays.
The Hunger Coalition also gave $25,000 to the Mid-South Food Bank to make sure Lee County food pantries and agencies also have enough food during the holidays.
And additional funding was also given to F.A.I.T.H. Food Pantry, St. Luke Food Pantry, Helping Hands Food Pantry, Jericho Baptist Church Food Pantry, Meals on Wheels, Emmanuel Church of God in Christ Food Pantry, Salvation Army food pantry and soup kitchen, Saints Brew from $1,000 to $3,500.
“These grants were given to help these groups through the very demanding holiday season,” Martin said.
Nonprofits see conflicting dynamics in city's need
By Bill Dries The Daily Memphian
For the last 20 years, First Baptist Church on Broad has celebrated Thanksgiving with a dinner at the church that includes the homeless. A group of men from the church deliver hot Thanksgiving meals to around 1,000 more people that day as well.
This year the deliveries ended with about 20 of the baskets left. On his drive back to the church with the baskets, Pastor Keith Norman saw a city bus ahead and pulled over as it stopped.
“I saw these people getting on the bus in a neighborhood we were serving. So I pulled in front of the bus and waved them down,” Norman said of the impromptu distribution of the rest of the baskets to the passengers.
He said it felt good to serve and came with something he hadn’t considered.
“One man said, ‘I don’t have a place to cook it. But I have a place to go. And if I take something in and they cook it, they will let me stay,'” Norman said on the WKNO/Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines.”
The Mid-South Food Bank's last hunger survey showed 40 percent of the households that are helped by the agency – which supplies food to other organizations that then distribute it – have someone who is working.
“We are now serving people who are above the poverty level,” she said. “They are struggling to make ends meet. They are making choices between gas to get to work because we have an inadequate public transportation system, fixing an old car. ‘Am I going to pay rent? Am I going to pay for this hospital visit? What am I going to pay?’ And food is what is left off the table often.”
“They are having to choose between putting food on the table or paying utilities,” she said.
“It’s really as different as the people coming through the door,” Heinz said. “So often, happily, all a family needs is that immediate assistance to get back on their feet. It’s a temporary crisis. It might be a medical bill. It might be a layoff and they just need a little bridge.”
Norman sees two “dynamics” at play in Memphis.
“On one list somewhere, we can be the most philanthropic city in the nation, and then on another list we can be the most impoverished,” he said. “That says we are giving a lot. But are we really changing the dynamic? That’s where the great concern is.
“Behind The Headlines,” hosted by Eric Barnes, president and executive editor of The Daily Memphian, airs Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 8:30 a.m. on WKNO-TV.
In his church’s efforts, Norman emphasizes maintaining the dignity of those served. Those efforts range from the sit-down Thanksgiving dinner to backpacks that come with socks, scarves, bottled water, toiletries and ready-to-eat food in whatever circumstances someone is living in.
“We are trying to make sure those families have dignity, as well, or they have something for enjoying the time that they can have together without focusing on the needs that are missing from their lives,” he said. “They may move from home to home or place to place. Even if it’s in someone else’s home, they are still considered homeless because they don’t have a permanent address where they can receive mail.”
The food bank’s backpack efforts includes six meals to cover the weekends for schoolchildren.
“The backpacks are more expensive for us to provide, but we know that many of the children who are receiving our backpacks may be going to homes with no utilities,” Mayhue-Greer said. “It’s food they can eat if they are not able to heat it. It’s shelf-stable.”
By April, the Mid-South Food Bank should have a new facility that allows it to double the 12 million to 15 million pounds of food it supplies annually to various agencies. It will also include freezer and refrigeration space to provide fresh produce and protein-based food.
“It’s not just putting food out the door, which is what we used to do. But we want to make life better for the clients that our partner agencies are serving,” she said. “It’s not just whatever comes in the door and out the door, but being focused on what’s going to impact health and help make people more healthy.”
Weathersbee: Some kids here don't know what a peach looks like. Can this school pantry help change that?
By Tonya Weathersbee, The Commercial Appeal
It's no surprise that some Memphis youths don't know what a fresh peach looks like.
Chances are that's a lesson their parents can't afford.
That's because in a city with the nation's second highest child poverty rate, paying close to $2 for a pound of fresh peaches - which amounts to about two large or three medium peaches - doesn't make much economic sense when that money will buy two or three cans of diced peaches.
That reality, one that fuels the childhood obesity epidemic here, is apparently showing up in the pediatric obesity program at Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center and University of Tennessee Health Science Center that Dr. Joan Han operates.
Han and Nichole Reed, a dietitian who works with the program, recently told a State of the State's Health roundtable here that some kids here are so used to processed fruits and vegetables that they have trouble recognizing some of them in their natural form.
Yet Han and Reed's experiences underscore why the Mid-South Food Bank's newest food pantry opened in the right place for youths to learn what certain fruits and vegetables look like.
The food bank recently opened its first school food pantry in Shelby County at George Washington Carver College and Career Academy. The pantry, called the Healthy Food Pantry, not only will supply canned foods, but will distribute fresh produce and include a garden for growing vegetables.
Kroger will donate food to the pantry, which will be operated by youths in Project STAND, a Shelby County School juvenile justice re-entry program, and youths involved in the school's Building Blocks Mentoring Program.
"We have fresh produce here," said Stephon Smallwood, founder and president of the mentoring program. "We have a refrigerator here that's state of the art...we'll have all the pillars of the food groups.
"And we'll be serving a whole zip code, not just the school."
About that zip code: Nearly 45 percent of children in 38109 were living below poverty level in 2016, according to census data. Fourteen schools are also in that zip code, said Tarol Page Clements, Project STAND manager.
"We have a garden with field peas and okra out there, and we have options for storing fresh fruit," said Clements, who said the pantry, which will distribute food twice a week, should be able to help as many as 135 families.
The youths in Project STAND will also benefit from the work experience by getting a chance to earn certificates in warehouse management and customer service, Clements said.
But when you consider how poverty feeds obesity by denying many children the chance to learn what some fruits and vegetables look like, the pantry has the potential to provide something more enduring.
It can provide the kind of education that can make them more conscious about their health; the kind that their parents would love to give to them but because their income forces them to prioritize convenience over health.
While the Healthy Food Pantry at Carver won't solve the structural issues behind Shelby County's deep poverty, it will at least give poor parents and students access to the fresh food that they need to stop their health from becoming a casualty of that poverty.
And so that they can learn to recognize - and enjoy - more types of fruits that come off a tree and not just out of a can.
MLGW, TVA Unite To Help Mid-South Food Bank
from Local 24 TV
Employees with Memphis, Light, Gas, and Water spent Wednesday giving back. MLGW teamed up with TVA to lend a helping hand at the Mid-South Food Bank. Click on video here
Employees met at the Perkins warehouse on Knight Road where they sorted through food donations and packed boxes with canned goods to feed needy families.
Employees say they want to help communities thrive and spending their time and energy on service projects like this one is well worth it.
"We have customers here who are obviously struggling, and this gives us an opportunity to partner with TVA and actually volunteer our services and really just give back to the community and give a helping hand,” says Frank Fletcher with MLGW. "What we're going to be doing is going through packages foods, checking for dates, expiration. Really just helping them out in whatever capacity they need in order to give back."
"It is great to work with our partners like MLGW and it is wonderful to be in the community doing something where you know you're impacting somebody's life,” says Beth Parsons with EnergyRight Solutions TVA. "Service is a core value for TVA and employees. It is something that we live and everything that we do each day we come to work."
Each year, MLGW departments work to raise money for the Mid-South Food Bank.
They donated more than $37,000 last year.
Opinion | Fighting malnutrition, child obesity and 'food insecurity'
By Mark Norris and Keith Payet, guest columnists - The Commercial Appeal
Good nutrition is a huge part of good health; however, there are a number of barriers that prevent people from eating the nutritious foods that are vital for healthy living.
Many families don’t have the resources they need to ensure everyone in their home has enough to eat. This issue, called "food insecurity", affects 13 percent of U.S. households, according to the most recent America’s Health Rankings report from the United Health Foundation.
Tennessee’s food insecurity rate is higher than that national average, and in certain parts of our state -- like Shelby County -- it is even greater. Nearly 200,000 people in Shelby County, or more than 20 percent of residents, are food insecure, according to Feeding America.
Even when healthy food is an option, families may be more likely to choose less nutritious food such as fast food because it’s readily available, cheaper and requires little to no preparation. Over time, these choices can add up to serious health challenges.
Tennessee youth rank 50th for obesity, with more than a third of children considered overweight or obese, according to America’s Health Rankings. Obesity is linked to an increased risk for a number of health conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and certain types of cancer.
As a state and as a nation, we must do more to support good nutrition for everyone -- especially our children, for whom good nutrition is critical for proper growth, development and lifelong health.
It is encouraging that there are already many organizations addressing this issue.
Food banks across Tennessee have many effective programs for addressing food insecurity for children and families. Mid-South Food Bank in Memphis provides more than 2,000 children with backpacks filled with nutritious, child-friendly food to take home every weekend, and a pantry program that provides a monthly box of nutritious food to high-school-aged children and their families.
The United Health Foundation and Whole Kids Foundation recently announced $81,000 in grants to 39 Tennessee schools and youth organizations to build or expand existing vegetable gardens, salad bars or beehives, and provide educational resources about agriculture, caring for the environment and maintaining healthy lifestyles.
The grants were announced at Gestalt Community Schools' Nexus STEM Academy in Memphis, where children will participate in a garden club so they can pick which foods they want to plant and tend to the garden -- eventually harvesting their crops.
Master gardeners and a chef from the community will teach the children how to garden and how to prepare healthy meals from the foods they grow. Studies have shown that children are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables they have grown themselves.
These and similar efforts are essential to promoting better nutrition and increased access to healthy foods for children, families and all people in Tennessee. Hopefully, by keeping this issue top-of-mind and supporting the organizations that are making a difference, we can improve the health of everyone in our state.
Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville) is founder of the Tennessee Nutrition Caucus. Keith Payet is the CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Tennessee.
Seniors being hungry is a nationwide epidemic
from The National Council on Aging
Nearly one in every six seniors in America faces the threat of hunger and not being properly nourished. This applies to those who aren’t sure where their next meal is coming from and those who don’t have access to the healthiest possible food options. The issue is severe enough that the AARP reports that seniors face a healthcare bill of more than $130 billion every yeardue to medical issues stemming from senior hunger.
Senior hunger is an expansive issue that requires an understanding of exactly what constitutes a senior being “hungry,” the issues that stem from senior hunger, and how seniors who are hungry can be helped.
To understand the concept of seniors being hungry, you must understand what it means to be “food insecure.” When you are food insecure, it means that there is “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways,” as defined by a study published in The Journal of Nutrition. Essentially, it means that you aren’t receiving and/or don’t have access to the necessary foods and nutrients to help sustain your life.
The concept of being “hungry” is a state-of-mind, meaning that there is a physical aspect to the lack of food. Attending to an area where people are hungry and basically starving is a much more immediate and severe problem to solve. Being food insecure, on the other hand, helps include people who may have enough food and don’t technically live consistently in hunger, but the food they are eating—usually in large amounts—isn’t up to nutritional and dietary standards.
To learn more visit: http://www.aginginplace.org/the-facts-behind-senior-hunger/
In Tupelo: Hunger Coalition announces summer feeding initiatives, makes major donation
By Cristina Carreon Daily Journal
TUPELO – The Hunger Coalition announced a new partnership and awarded a significant donation at a press conference Wednesday morning.
Coalition director Jason Martin announced a partnership with state-supported nonprofit Families First for Mississippi and presented a check of $25,000 to Mid-South Food Bank to support its Summer Backpack Program.
“Together we are pledging to raise awareness about food insecurity in Lee County and beyond. This summer we will start the work by providing food for eligible children in grades kindergarten through rising seventh-graders in Tupelo, Lee and Baldwyn,” Martin said.
The Coalition announced its three major partners at the meeting, which include Families First for Mississippi, United Way of Northeast Mississippi and the CREATE Foundation. Coalition leaders also introduced the organization’s 12-member board of directors, who are pledging together to feed 600 hungry children in Lee County this summer.
Martin, who was hired in early March of 2018, said he will work closely with Mid-South for the coalition’s Summer Backpack Program, as well as on other local feeding programs going forward.
“In most cases, throughout the school year these children receive food as part of the free and reduced lunch program and also participate in the backpack program that goes on during the school year,” Martin said. “The problem is during the summer they don’t receive either of those resources and go hungry.”
According to a recent press release from the Coalition, 19.2 percent of Lee County residents are food insecure.
Although Mid-South distributed 1,245,139 pounds of food to Lee County in 2015, it would take more than 3,000,000 pounds of food to fully meet the needs of low-income residents facing hunger.
“We will pool this money with other sources that we have, which will allow us to buy product by the truckload at a good price,” said Mid-South CEO Estelle Greer-Mayhew. “This collaboration in Lee County is an example. I hope that we can duplicate and share, not just here and in the other counties in Mississippi, but also in the Tennessee and Arkansas counties we serve.”
Next week will be the Coalition’s first major event since its formation in late 2016 – a major food packaging volunteer event at BancorpSouth Arena, where more than 300 people are expected to attend.
The Summer Backpack Program will run for nine weeks this summer from June 4 to the week of July 30.
Volunteers will put together 5,400 packages of food to be placed into the backpacks of students on a list of 600 children found to be food insecure in the area.
Organizers are encouraging private individuals as well as businesses, school groups and church youth groups to attend the volunteer meetup at BancorpSouth Arena Thursday May 31 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.
To sign up or find more information about the volunteer event, visit https://bit.ly/2IP0Fmn.
Lionel Hollins, nonprofit director team up on new Overton Square restaurant
By Jacob Steimer Memphis Business Journal
Former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins is teaming up with the director of a local nonprofit to bring a new restaurant — and novel concept — to Overton Square.
The restaurant will serve "Southern-inspired" fare in the former Schweinehaus space, and the owners plan to donate 2 percent of net food sales* to the Mid-South Food Bank. They estimate the restaurant will earn more than $30,000 for the nonprofit in its first year.
"I’ve been looking for something to do since I’ve been out of coaching, not knowing whether I’m going to get back in or not," Hollins said. "When you have something that, on one hand, makes money but, on the other hand, helps the community, it was a no-brainer."
The restaurant is the brain child of Edward Bogard, director of the Memphis-based shoe charity SoGiv, and will take his last name. The idea sprang from a partnership he forged with the food bank in 2014 to allow sales of a special SoGiv shoe to benefit the nonprofit.
"It was so fulfilling," Bogard said. "I wanted to do something like that on a more consistent basis."
Bogard knew Hollins from a partnership SoGiv had with Hollins' charity.
"It’s a perfect location. Midtown is blossoming," Hollins said.
And, Hollins hopes the restaurant's success shows other black entrepreneurs that they can be successful in Midtown — a part of town with few black-owned businesses.
Eventually, Bogard believes the restaurant will spread "all over the world," in part because it allows people to feel good about where they're eating and in part because of the great food it will serve.
As neither Bogard nor Hollins have restaurant experience, Ben McLean of Belly Acres and Tennessee Taco Co. is consulting on the project and designing the menu. Ed Cabigao of South of Beale and Zaka Bowl will be the general manager. The menu is set to include items such as fried green tomatoes, ribs, avocado toast and calamari.
The restaurant plans to capitalize each letter in BOGARD, as an acronym for Buying One Gives Another Rare Dish. Mid-South Food Bank communications manager Andrew Bell said he's excited for the novel concept to become reality.
"There are some businesses that continually or seasonally help the Food Bank," Bell said. "But, standardizing a part of the restaurant’s business model to financially support Mid-South Food Bank [year-round] is rather unique. An almost equally important aspect is creating exposure about food insecurity in a very popular entertainment district, where patrons are reminded of a serious problem in their community while they enjoy fine dining."
Hollins' son-in-law, Preston Butts, will be a minority owner in the restaurant. Loeb Realty Group's Barry Maynard represented Bogard, Hollins and Butts in the lease, which was signed Wednesday and is set for 10 years. Loeb Properties' Aaron Petree represented his company, which owns the building.
With as volatile as the restaurant industry is, Hollins said he knows the venture is risky, but he's not one to shy away from risk.
"Everything you have a passion for in life is risky," Hollins said. "Every time you go and take a big shot, the possibility of missing is there. [But,] the point is to try to win the game, not worry about losing it."
When asked if he plans on ever coaching in the NBA again, Hollins said it is still a hope of his but that he doesn't know if he'll receive the opportunity. Either way, he said he plans to maintain Memphis — where he's lived for 15 years — as his home town.
"Memphis is my home. Memphis is my passion," he said. "I love the direction it's going in. I'm excited to be here and call myself a Memphian."
*While 2 percent of net food sales will go to the food bank, 2 percent of net drink sales will be donated to clean water charities.
The Commercial Appeal
Recently, as President Trump and his minions were eyeing embarrassment as a cure for hunger, a lot of people were already enduring that.
By 8 a.m. this past Friday at North Frayser Community Center, a line of vehicles on two blocks of the street leading up to it — as well as an adjacent one — was at a standstill.
Some had waited for nearly three hours as volunteers for the Mid-South Food Bank piled tables with frozen blueberries, iceberg lettuce, Alaskan pollock, chicken, beef, apple juice and other foods to donate to people who know the month will last longer than their paycheck or their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
Few wanted to talk to me. Many shooed me away before I even reached their vehicle. That’s likely because of the more than 200,000 people in this area who rely on food bank help, nearly half are in households where someone works.
That means they need free food — but they don’t want people they know they need it.
“One time, a lady was in line getting her food, and she looked up and saw all these red shirts coming,” recalled Estella Mayhue-Greer, president and CEO of the food bank.
“She said, ‘Oh Lord, these are my co-workers.’ The volunteers were from Walgreens, which was where this lady worked … she needed food because her kids were out of school for the summer, and she didn’t have enough for them.”
But those who did talk believed that Trump’s plans to replace some people’s SNAP benefits with a “Harvest Box,” dropped off at their door and filled with cheap peanut butter, cereals, pastas and staples, but no fresh foods, would deliver more shame than nutrition
That’s easy to see — considering that if they can come to a mobile food site to pick up foods, they can simply take it home as if they just arrived from the supermarket, as they do after they’ve purchased food with their SNAP cards.
A box delivered to their door would let the world know they’re getting government food.
That is, if the boxes even reached them at all.
“Due to housing problems in our area, families move around quite a bit,” said Rhonda Ferguson-Williams, a family advocate counselor for Shelby County’s Relative Caregiver Program. She came to pick up food for two grandparents caring for their grandchildren.
“What if you’ve moved? What if your box is stolen off your porch? What if you’re in a rural area that’s tough to get to physically?”
“I just don’t see how it’s going to be beneficial for our families, putting a box out for them... I see a lot of shame in that. It reminds me of the soup lines.”
“Right now, I’m taking care of eight children,” said Chandra Jones, who is also looking after the children of a sister struggling with a drug addiction. “I’m doing what I have to do to feed the kids…
“But this (food boxes)? Oh, my God…no.”
As it turns out, there may not be much to worry about there.
Administration officials are already saying that the idea of replacing half of SNAP recipients' cash benefits with a staples box has virtually no chance of becoming reality.
Additionally, some lawmakers believe it is a distraction from the administration’s real purpose: To continue to slash billions from SNAP — which 67 percent of the food bank’s clients rely on — and make it harder for people to qualify for it.
That, in and of itself, would be a mistake.
A recent report by The Hamilton Project, which examines economic policy for the Brookings Institution, found that SNAP has, among other things, helped people avoid health problems later in life associated with poor nutrition, helped children perform better in school and helped families weather financial crises.
Yet instead of working to create policies to help people get the nutrition they need to be healthy enough to work, to get an education and to ultimately climb out of poverty and dependency, the Trump administration’s answer is to float untested ideas that are rooted in distraction and shaming.
And that’s bad.
It’s bad because the last thing that people like the ones who were waiting in their cars, in 40-degree weather, for food in Frayser need is to be pawns for people who are intent on adding a heaping helping of stigmatization to their struggles.
By Jessica Gertler/WREG TV
Hundreds of families in Frayser stood in line Friday to get a box of food.
The Mid-South Food Bank started a mobile pantry in Frayser and Orange Mound using a MLK50 grant from the city.
"They had people lining up at 6:30 this morning," said Belynda Terry with the Mid-South Food Bank. "We are here to pump food into the community."
Hundreds of cars wrapped around the neighborhood for hours.
"21 thousand pounds of food just this location. 440 households," said Terry.
The city of Memphis passed out grant money for MLK50 to support programming and events honoring Dr. King's dream.
The Mid-South Food Bank was granted $7,500 to address poverty by launching the mobile food pantries for the next several months.
"Take care of each other. That's what we are here to do. Take care of each other," said Terry.
Weathersbee: This season, the Mid-South Food Bank will be bearing gifts in prettier packages
The Commercial Appeal
When Mid-South Food Bank volunteers deliver food to needy people this holiday season, the packages won’t arrive in tinfoil or tinsel.
They will, however, arrive in boxes that package dignity along with nutrition.
This past year, International Paper donated 250,000 custom corrugated boxes to deliver meals to more than 400,000 people in the Mid-South. While International Paper has been a major contributor in helping the food bank combat food insecurity in the region – among other things, it donated $1.25 million in 2016 to help it modernize and consolidate three warehouses and to improve its refrigeration capacity – the gift of the boxes is particularly special.
Estella Mayhue-Greer, president and CEO of Mid-South Food Bank, said that before the gift of the boxes, food was delivered in used boxes that not only cost too much, but often had labeling that didn’t reflect the contents.
Now, the new boxes bear the logos of International Paper and Mid-South Food Bank.
No confusion there.
“Before International Paper, we were paying 35 to 45 cents per box,” Mayhue-Greer said. “The boxes were used, and many times, they were mislabeled…we had a box labeled for beer going to a church…
“Imagine, a box labeled for beer going to a church.”
Tom Cleves, vice president of global citizenship for International Paper, said that because it makes one out of every three brown boxes in the nation, creating the boxes – as well as food boxes with handles for the youths who participate in the food bank’s Kids Café program – fit perfectly with its mission.
“We saw them using Budweiser boxes and used banana boxes,” Cleves said. “We didn’t want the food bank delivering food in liquor boxes, but we really didn’t want them to use dirty boxes.
Yet, while being able to deliver food in new boxes gives struggling people more of a sense of dignity in knowing that they aren’t getting food in boxes that weren’t intended for them, and that their esteem isn’t an afterthought, there’s another reason why the gift of the boxes matter.
They make it easier for the food bank to package nutritious food to poor people instead of food that just fills their bellies, Mayhue-Greer said.
“They’ve designed boxes specifically for us to deliver produce, protein products and entrees,” she said. “That helps us to help people eat healthier.”
And that’s important – if Memphis and Shelby County is to ever put a dent in its obesity and its food insecurity problem.
Because Memphis is the second fattest city in the U.S., there are those who doubt that nearly a quarter of Shelby County’s residents are worried about where their next meal will come from. After all, obesity isn’t exactly a symptom of starvation.
An elected official, in fact, once told Mayhue-Greer that because he saw obese people in line with food stamps, that they couldn’t possibly be concerned about hunger.
“He said, ‘They aren’t missing any meals,’” Mayhue-Greer recalled.
But here’s the thing.
While obesity isn’t a symptom of starvation, it is a symptom of food insecurity – because what it means is that when people who struggle to buy food get it, they buy a lot of unhealthy and fattening foods that they can stretch to stave off hunger.
Also, when people have gone for a long time without food, or are unsure about when they will eat next, that fear will cause them to overeat.
Which leads to obesity – and other ills.
“In 40 percent of the households that we provide services to, people have high blood pressure and diabetes,” Mayhue-Greer said. “Those are diet-related issues, and those are food insecurity issues.”
That’s why, for some time, the food bank has been focused less on collecting canned goods and staples and more on providing produce, perishables and nutritious foods. And that’s why this Christmas, it is especially grateful for the gift from International Paper.
To help needy people deal with their health as well as their hunger. And their dignity.
Hunger during the holidays
The Commercial Appeal
During the holidays, we look forward to big platters of turkey or ham, fancy side dishes, delicious desserts and plenty of leftovers. But such meals are a fantasy for thousands throughout the Mid-South. Food insecurity and hunger during the holidays is a cold fact of life.
Nearly 405,000 residents in Mid-South Food Bank's 31-county service area are food insecure, which means they do not have consistent access to adequate food for active, healthy lives.
Children, adults and seniors impacted by hunger may experience more frequent illness, slower recovery times and impaired ability to concentrate. Hunger takes an emotional toll as well, with increased levels of anxiety, depression and difficulties getting along with others.
The holiday season brings the need for supplemental nutrition into sharper focus. Winter school break can be a tough time for low-income families. Many children receive free or reduced-priced school meals for basic nutrition. Without those meals, it is a strain on the family budget.
Often, providing three meals a day for the children is impossible. Feeding America's research has shown many parents and grandparents skip meals to make sure their children have food to eat.
In addition, families cut back on portions, water down food and beverages and choose the cheapest, most filling food they can afford. It is a sad fact that the least expensive food available is often the most highly processed and least nutritious.
Mid-South Food Bank distributes more than a million pounds of food every month through our network of Partner Agencies, which include food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, youth programs, senior programs and more.
More than 80 percent of the food we distribute has high nutritional value, including fresh produce, meat and other protein products such as peanut butter, plus no-sodium canned vegetables and no-sugar canned fruit.
With everything we do and the hard work of dedicated volunteers at our agencies, we are still only serving half of the people in need in our service area.
Our goal is to end hunger in the Mid-South. With the continued support of Mid-South Food Bank's many volunteers and donors, we will address the nutrition needs of all who face food insecurity in our 31-county service area.
The holidays make us more aware of food insecurity and hunger, but hunger doesn’t begin or end with the holidays. Hunger is a 12-month problem.
Mid-South Food Bank is working year-round to change lives by eliminating hunger in the Mid-South. With your help we can.
Learn more about our work and how you can help at midsouthfoodbank.org.
Opinion: Collaborative approach strong way to fight hunger
The Daily Journal
A broad-based coalition took another step last week in its efforts to fight hunger in Lee County.
The Tupelo/Lee County Hunger Coalition was formed in August under the auspices of the CREATE Foundation’s Tupelo/Lee County Community Foundation and the United Way of Northeast Mississippi. It brings together various entities already working to fight hunger – food banks, nonprofits, churches, schools and government bodies.
The coalition’s idea is to serve as a hub between those groups so they can identify needs, share information and close gaps in coverage. Because, despite tremendous efforts by so many Lee County residents for so long, gaps do exist.
Data compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that 19 percent of Lee County residents suffer from some form of food insecurity. That amounts to roughly 16,270 individuals.
In 2015, the Memphis-based Mid-South Food Bank distributed 1,245,139 pounds of food in Lee County. But estimates by local leaders determined it would take more than 3,000,000 pounds of food to fully meet the community’s need.
And so the coalition seeks to identify the greatest needs and determine how to make the biggest impact with existing resources.
At a meeting last week, the discussion centered around plans for the agencies to coordinate their efforts, as reported by the Daily Journal’s Cristina Carreon.
For instance, CREATE Foundation President Mike Clayborne told the group he received a call last week from the Salvation Army that there was an excess of 400 pounds of crab meat that needed to be distributed quickly. Bargain Hunt had received an extra shipment, but like the Salvation Army, it didn’t know which organization to send it to.
Those are the sort of gaps the coalition hopes to close through communication and collaboration. Clayborne noted the current system is spotty and not comprehensive.
Meanwhile, United Way of Northeast Mississippi President Melinda Tidwell said the coalition has determined three main areas of need – food delivery, food pantries and school programs.
They want to steer local residents to give funds to local food pantries instead of donating food. That’s because food pantries can buy more food for the dollar.
And they want to explore programs that provide food to low-income school children while they’re not at school.
The coalition is the latest example of the community spirit that has long made Tupelo, Lee County and Northeast Mississippi rise above other locales. It’s an ethos that by bringing people and groups together to address a challenge, the impact can be greater.
Reducing hunger is an important goal for any community.
Lee County now has a stronger approach as it tries to do so.
TVA gives back through mobile food pantry
By John ward, monroe journal
AMORY – It was a trunk-or-treat in reverse on a spectacular Halloween day as volunteers from the Amory Food Pantry teamed up with Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) staff from Starkville and Tupelo and volunteers who took the day off for community service to unload groceries from a convoy of trucks from the Memphis-based Mid-South Food Bank in the parking lot of First United Methodist Church.
Tuesdays are the days for weekly distribution for the Amory Food Pantry, and the same effort was executed on an expanded scale for 400 pre-screened clients with vouchers.
“We thank TVA for their generosity,” said Amory Food Pantry Director Nancy Hoang. “Clients have a limited number of turns they can visit the pantry, and many are running out as we get towards the end of the year. The mobile pantry added an extra opportunity for families to receive food. This visit does not count against their annual allowance.”
The line of clients’ vehicles stretched for some three blocks beyond the church campus before winding their way through the parking lot to be loaded with food by the army of volunteers.
“Mid-South Food Bank provided the food while
TVA provided the funding,” said food bank advocacy officer Fred Ashwill.
The challenge at hand was that the contents of the delivery trucks were not known in advance, so distribution logistics had to be worked out on the spot.
“The camaraderie of the TVA volunteers made it easy for us,” Hoang said. “Our group from the pantry is always like this – every Tuesday. We work together as a team. It was no different at the mobile pantry today.”
By mid-afternoon, food was loaded into more than 350 vehicles by at least 40 volunteers.
“It blesses me a lot to know that there are people that care for others,” said Jeanette Sorrells of Gattman, who was one of the recipients.
Former Memphis football standout Dontari Poe shows heart as big as body in food giveaway
By Ron Maxey, The Commercial Appeal
When Dontari Poe hits, you stay hit. After all, he's a big guy.
But no one was complaining Tuesday as Poe, a defensive tackle for the Atlanta Falcons and a former University of Memphis Tiger, hit them up with Thanksgiving turkeys and groceries.
Poe took a break from the NFL season to spend the day in Memphis handing out the food through his Poeman's Dream Foundation. The giveaway took place at The Healing Center in Oakhaven, not far from where Poe grew up in Whitehaven.
For Poe, it's a chance to give back to the community that enabled him to succeed.
"It's just a chance to feed a few families," Poe said as the giveaway was wrapping up Tuesday afternoon. "There's a lot of families in need."
Poe said he intends to make the giveaway an annual event. He worked through the Memphis Food Bank to coordinate it.
More: Chiefs' 346-pound DT Dontari Poe throws TD on 'Bloated Tebow Pass'
"Anytime we can serve more people in a particular area, it's always a tremendous plus," Andrew Bell, communications director for the Food Bank, said of Poe's contribution.
Bell said nearly 14,000 pounds of food was distributed Tuesday to area residents, a total of 200 households.
"It was all nutritious food," Bell said.
Poe made a name for himself with his exceptional arm strength and lateral quickness. His performance in the NFL Scouting Combine even drew the attention of former President Barack Obama.
"They just had the Combine, and they were talking about some guy who's like 340 and runs a 4.8 and has a three-foot vertical," Obama said during an appearance on ESPN's B.S. Report with Bill Simmons. "I don't know what you do if a guy like that hits you."
Poe played for the U of M from 2009-2011 and was named a Conference USA All-Freshman Team Selection. He was drafted No.11 by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012 after passing on his senior year at Memphis. In March this year, he signed a one-year contract with the Falcons.
Poe's weight is listed by ESPN at 346 pounds, but he just collected a $125,000 incentive from the Falcons for keeping his weight under 330.
Poe said he's just glad his career has given him the opportunity to help others in the place he got his start. And he's also glad to see the U of M doing so well on the football field this season:
"Oh man, they're doing amazing," Poe said with a smile while packing up.
Tupelo area coalition formed to address hunger
By CALEB BEDILLION DAILY JOURNAL
TUPELO – In the face of hunger, it’s all hands on deck.
A coalition of local non-profits and food banks have determined to band together, share information and seek to marshal greater resources to alleviate the persistent and pressing problem that many member of the community often do not have enough to eat.
Specifically, the CREATE Foundation’s Tupelo/Lee County Community Foundation and the United Way have fostered the creation of the Tupelo/Lee County Hunger Coalition.
This coalition intends to act as as a hub between local food banks, non-profits, churches, schools and government bodies.
“We want to act as a community core that brings everyone together so everyone does better,” said Dick White, chairman of the Tupelo/Lee County County Community Foundation.
White warned that despite lots of effort and attention from many different agencies, non-profit, and churches, “there are some big gaps in coverage.”
United Way Executive Director Melinda Tidwell underscored the extent of the issue by pointing to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics indicating that an estimated 19 percent of Lee County residents suffer from some form of food insecurity.
This insecurity often takes the form of a difficult choice between buying food or paying utility bills. It also includes children who may rely on food from schools and face meager meals at home in the evenings or on weekends.
The Tupelo/Lee County Hunger Coalition sponsored its first meeting of involved parties on Thursday morning.
Mike Clayborne, president of the CREATE Foundation, told the group that the Tupelo/Lee County Hunger Coalition can improve collaboration, produce efficiencies and unlock additional resources within the area.
Clayborne said the coalition's goals are to “elevate the understanding of where hunger exists” and to address issues of food distribution and supply among area food pantries.
Thursday’s gathering of community and non-profit leaders also heard from Estella Mayhue-Greer, president of the Mid-South Food Bank.
Based in Memphis, the Mid-South Food Bank distributes food to partner agencies and food pantries throughout north Mississippi, west Tennessee and east Arkansas.
She offered encouragement for a collaborative approach.
“Our mission is to change lives by eliminating hunger, but we can’t do it alone,” said Mayhue-Greer.
It’s an approach that Clayborne believes is particularly suited to the Lee County area with its strong history of civic-minded cooperation.
“There’s no question that when this community and county puts its mind to something, we’ll get it done,” he said.
Memphis especially vulnerable to food-stamp cuts
But for some in Tennessee, going hungry is a real problem.
Shooters gathered Thursday afternoon at Carroll County Shooting Sports Park to not only test their skills but to help combat the issue.
“I definitely want to make sure people are fed,” shooter Hunter Phillips said. “I don’t want to see anybody starving.”
The Shooting Hunger fundraiser brought out hundreds to the shooting range, with all money raised benefiting the Mid-South Food bank and the Second Harvest Food Bank.
Organizers say more than 260 shooters came from all over for this event, but the real goal is to make sure no one goes hungry.
“Most of us don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from, but there are those in Tennessee that perhaps don’t,” Tennessee Farm Bureau President Jeff Aiken said.
Aiken said this is the first year for the fundraiser in West Tennessee.
“We have been hosting these events in Middle Tennessee, so this is kind of expansion into the west area,” he said.
Carroll County Mayor Kenny McBride says the goal is to raise $50,000, which in turn would feed more than 400 people.
“I don’t think we will have a hard time surpassing that,” he said. “They’re telling us we have more shooters here today than were in Nashville in the fall.”
And as for people in the agriculture business, Aiken said fighting hunger brings them together. “We’re in the business of growing food, and we want to see that food goes to those who need it the most.”
The next Shooting Hunger fundraiser will be held Sept. 28 in Nashville.
Last week we discussed the Jubilee Schools, which are educating children in urban areas of Memphis, affording opportunities for them to learn, grow and succeed in a faith-based environment regardless of their socioeconomic status. This week, let us spotlight an organization that is fighting hunger through the efficient collection and distribution of wholesome food, and through education and advocacy: Mid-South Food Bank.
Feeding Children addresses the nutritional needs of approximately 136,000 children. Last year, for example, 206,500 backpack meals were enjoyed by children who might not otherwise have had a nutritious meal to eat. Mobile Pantry provides truckloads of food for distribution in 20 rural and underserved counties. Mobile Pantry also provides fresh produce to youth and seniors, who live in inner-city food deserts. Disaster Relief is offered as a first response to supply emergency shelters with food when disaster strikes.
Collect these items at your office, then call Yuletide Office Solutions, which has graciously offered the services of their trucks and team, to schedule a pick-up time on Monday, April 30, or Monday, May 7. Sherry Favre is scheduling pick-ups and may be reached at 372-8588 or email@example.com.
Financial contributions are powerful, as every dollar donated translates to $4 worth of food, due to their partnerships. Take a tour of their facility or consider volunteering. Cast a daily Facebook vote at http://apps.facebook.com/walmartfighthunger/ (contest ends April 30) and Mid-South Food Bank could win $1 million to fight hunger. Learn more and help feed those in need by visiting www.midsouthfoodbank.org.
One of the most important summits in the Mid-South on one of the most important topics — the food we eat — is slated for April 26 at the Landers Center in Southaven.
The first-ever DeSoto Hunger Summit is open to nonprofits, churches, restaurants, farmers/growers and retailers. Registration for the summit gathering is this week.
Anna Dickerson, Director of Community Education for the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi, provided some startling statistics for food consumption and hunger in a region typically considered as affluent.
"It's estimated that 14.5 percent of DeSoto County residents know what it means to go without food regularly," Dickerson said. "Would you believe it if we said that 40 percent of the food produced in the United States never actually touches a plate?"
Dickerson said a group of entrepreneurs, nonprofits, food banks, growers and producers, among representatives of other organizations, will gather to share ideas and plan solutions to ending hunger for many individuals.
"Solving hunger is no stranger to many great organizations in DeSoto County and we applaud their efforts on a daily basis. In order to aid those organizations and others that want to further improve the food insecurity issue in DeSoto County, many leaders in the community have joined forces to present the first-ever DeSoto County Hunger Summit," Dickerson said.
One of those individuals who is eagerly awaiting the Hunger Summit is Austin Avery, the executive director of Fish-N-Loaves organization.
A computer engineer/technician by trade, Avery and his wife Laresia "Reesie" Avery wanted to help those individuals in need. With their home paid for and material possessions beyond measure, they wish to pass on some of those blessings to others.
The couple have recently purchased several acres in Marshall County to grow food for the greater Mid-South region and have a model to set up solar-powered aquaponics community gardens in selected communities across the area.
The aquaponics will be self-sustaining greenhouses which can produce more than six tons of food despite their relatives modest size and footprint.
"On April 26, we'll have a small unit demonstration of this," Avery recently told members of the Rotary Club of Hernando.
The key to solving hunger is providing access to healthy food, not the junk food and non-nutricious foods consumed by individuals mired in poverty.
The couple have begun assisting individuals in the historically underprivileged West End community of Hernando.
"Mississippi ranks No. 1 in lack of access to affordable, nutritious food," Avery said. "America has more than enough food to feed everyone. But our abundance is accompanied by tremendous waste. We have people who go hungry in Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee and the Mid-South. We have the food to feed them but it's not affordable and they don't have access to it. We've made a dent in food waste, and if we can turn it around and give it to someone who is hungry, then we have made a dent in food insecurity."
In early 2016, Avery and his wife bought an old school bus and converted it to solar power.
"We now deliver food directly to families in Hernando, Nesbit and Eudora the first of every month," Avery said. "Each week, we pick up food from local restaurants. It's not just giving food to everybody who asks for it. It is all validated. Right now, we also go to Walmart to get food to feed people who are hungry but we know long term that method is not sustainable."
Avery, a computer engineer with specialized skills, plans to "go live" online in May with a new program, the first of its kind in Mississippi, in which restaurants will be able to take pictures of food through a smart food portal to be picked up by volunteers and delivered to a hungry person in need.
To Avery, it's all about giving back to the community.
"We believe if we give our gifts to others, we can make something happen for the glory of God," Avery said.
The Hunger Summit event is free to attend, but registration is required. To register or for more information contact Anna Dickerson with the Community Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at email@example.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 25
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.
The findings aren’t as surprising as they are revealing.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
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.
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."
"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."