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Food Security Efforts Feed Hungry In State
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- When people in the land of plenty are short of food, agencies are in place to meet needs, but keeping those agencies stocked is a community-wide effort.
John Alford, executive director of the Mississippi Food Network in Jackson, said Mississippians needing emergency food assistance increased 18 percent this year from 1998 levels. His food bank distributes food to local charitable organizations which feed the hungry.
"We're averaging about 65,000 people a month needing food from our 57-county area," Alford said. "Of those people, 49 percent are 18 or younger and 20 percent are 65 or older."
Dr. Louise Davis, child and family development specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said the early years are a critical time for proper nutrition.
"From birth to three years old, the brain cannot develop at the proper rate if children don't have good nutrition," Davis said. "If you want a child to be ready for school and to be a success, that child has to develop at the proper, normal rate, and that requires good nutrition for overall well-being."
In response to the hunger, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency established a program to salvage good food going to waste for those who need it. The Field Gleaning, Food Recovery and Community Food Security initiative is the result of these efforts.
"We want to take an active role in helping needy Americans," said Sandra Brown, FSA state gleaning coordinator. "Working together, we do what we can to ensure that all citizens have a secure food supply to meet their nutritional needs."
According to USDA figures, 21 million people nationally depend on emergency food assistance, yet about 27 percent of food produced for human consumption is wasted each year.
Brown said field gleaning is a biblical reference to how Ruth gathered food for herself and her mother-in-law by picking up what remained after harvesters left a field.
"The idea is that whenever you harvest, there is always something left behind that someone else can use," Brown said.
Food recovery is salvaging excess food that has been prepared for restaurants or a special event. This cooked food unused at the end of the day can be taken directly to food banks and given to charity.
The Farm Service Agency also is getting involved with wild game recovery. Sportsmen Against Hunger is a Mississippi group which partners with slaughterhouses to give harvested deer to charities. This is potentially a great source of food for hungry Mississippians.
These community food security efforts require considerable coordination to match both the donors with the middlemen who distribute the food to needy recipients.
"Gleaning and food recovery depend on the crop or food available and the perishability of the product," Brown said. "You have to consider the perishability of the product to determine if it can be used safely."
County FSA offices across Mississippi have begun to coordinate efforts to share the excess food from one sector of society with another part that is hungry.
"Whether someone has a product to donate or time or equipment that can be used to glean, we have a place where their services can be used," Brown said. "Communities working together do make a real difference in the fight against hunger."
Contact: Sandra Brown, (601) 965-4300