Mid-South Food Bank: Tackling food insecurity, hunger through communal effort
With global incidents such as COVID-19, rising cost of living and food prices and many more people falling into poverty as a result of income loss, sickness or even inflation, more and more people are finding it difficult to eat and get by in general.
Armed with a mission to change lives by alleviating hunger in the Mid-South and giving residents a hand in time of need, the Mid-South Food Bank in Memphis, Tennessee led by President and CEO, Cathy Pope, welcomed The Guardian alongside a dozen journalists from different countries in Africa, to see first-hand the power of compassion, communal effort and how they are fighting hunger.
The Mid-South Food Bank, founded in November 1981, started out as a MIFA program and the following year, became a member of Feeding America, the national network of food banks. Pope said over the years, they have served thousands of food insecure individuals and will continue to do so. She added that they currently distribute an average of four million meals a month through a network of 300 partner agencies in 12 counties in West Tennessee, 18 counties in north Mississippi and one county in Arkansas.
Taking journalists round the gigantic warehouse, we were able to see first hand how the food bank, with the help of volunteers and staff, work tirelessly to gather, store, and distribute food to those in need across the different regions they cover. Its impact is felt throughout the community, as it partners with various local agencies to provide meals and sustenance to children, families, and individuals who might otherwise go without.
Noting that though want and hunger are universal problems, Pope said that with communal effort and a strong commitment to helping those in need, it could be overcome.
Beneficiaries are thankful for the support
In order to see how the sharing of the food works, The Guardian went to Arkansas on a day the Mid-South food bank was distributing to residents in a small county. Speaking with beneficiaries, some of who said they had been on the queue from as early as 4:30 a.m, they expressed gratitude to the foodbank and wished that such could be replicated for those in need all over the world.
Speaking with twin sisters, Lauretta and Roseanne, they said the rising cost of living was unbearable and they could not keep up with food and other essentials. “This food bank, they treat us well, they ensure we get enough food as much as possible. I am on food aid and food stamps; I get $19 on the stamp which is not enough for my household and we supplement it with what we get from this food bank. I am on disability and food prices are so high. People really need this kind of help. A lot of people cannot afford medicines and food at once and many are lacking so this foodbank is a huge help for them.”
Another beneficiary, Er Macarter, who said she is also on disability and has been for a long time as a result of a back and neck injury, said she gets $20 in food stamps monthly. “It is not enough to take care of all my needs and I come to the food bank to supplement. The food they give me covers the whole month since I live alone,” she said.
Another beneficiary who spoke with The Guardian, said she comes to the food bank to pick up for her aged parents. Valerie, who had been on the queue for several hours said she got there at 5am that day. “I work from home full time and both my parents are on Medicaid and retired. I feel that the deduction that comes out of their medicare cheque should not be taken out because it’s very little to start with. It can’t cover medication, food and other basic things like light and gas. The food bank really helps meet some of their needs and what they do not use, I give out to other elderly people around me. A lot of elderly people cannot come here on their own while others do not have family members that can sacrifice time to pick up for them. I take them to the doctor’s and run errands for them, none of them can get around and do anything for themselves and I am happy I am able to do this for them.”
Another beneficiary who said she had been on the queue since a little after 5 that morning, said she is on disability and gets $50 from food stamps. “My mom is aged and can’t do anything. The money I get is not enough for all of us and this bank helps us food-wise. My first child is 35 years old but I don’t want help from them. I want to keep going until I cannot no more, maybe until things get really desperate. Also, they have their own kids to look after and giving me will be taking from the kids. Coming to the food bank helps my mom and I get by from month to month,” she said.
Another woman on the queue, Bessie Williams, said she comes to the food bank every month without fail. “I am low income; I don’t have enough food and I do not get food stamps. I don’t get food stamps because the state said my social security income is too high and this is the only food support I get. My children and grandchildren help when they can but they don’t even have enough for themselves so I can’t pressure them. Sometimes, we get more or less from the food bank but it helps a lot as I don’t have to get much from the store.”
A 75 year old man that was present at the queue as well, said he had been there since 6:30 am to get food. “I am handicapped and need a lot of help. I come here every month and they give me enough to last a whole month. I get $150 on my food stamp card, I get medicare and Medicaid and try to manage on all that for the month.’
A first timer at the food bank that day, 37 year old Rachael A, said she decided to try it out as she needed to feed her family. “I don’t get food stamp and I have seven kids to feed. I buy all my groceries and come here for extras and if I don’t end up using it, I will give it out. My husband and I work, I work online and he works when he can so this will help us a lot. I make a decent amount of money but we are working on our property right now out of pocket and it has taken a lot of our income.”
Another beneficiary, Brenda, said she gets $144 on her food stamp, but it was not enough to take care of her needs in a month. “You can’t buy things like detergent and personal care on the cheque, just food, so I have to use my social security for those. The food bank really helps me, they have different things monthly, it’s never the same and the quality is always very good.
Marketing and communications manager for Mid-South Food Bank, Nicole Willis, said they do what they do because many families and seniors are hungry and while for some people, poverty may look different from what it looks like in other places, the inability to pay bills and meet basic needs is poverty. “If you cannot pay bills and feed yourself at the same time, that is a huge problem. People come here because they have different challenges and we do not turn anyone back. Some people cannot pay their rent, sometimes, after buying food, they might not have money for anything else; things as simple as tissue, paper towels, light bills, gas and so on. There are other challenges people face asides food insecurity. If kids are not fed, they will act out and face challenges from their peers in school. It goes beyond providing food for families, we are taking care of more far-reaching needs. It is important that we help in some way and we also provide non-food items like tissues, batteries and whatever a family may need in their home. Basically, we just intend to give people a hands-up. Today, we are providing for 500 households (1-4 people) but we also accommodate those that have more than 4 in their household. I would say we have reached millions of people and thousands of households since we started.”
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