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Food banks benefit from Extension staff
By Steven Nalley
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Mississippi State University Extension Service county offices receive a wide range of questions from the state’s diverse population, and the office associates typically are on the front line of all incoming calls.
“We see our roles as important as the other professionals who respond to the needs of our communities,” said Barbara Curry, office associate in the Northeast District Extension Office in Verona. “The mission statement for the MSU Statewide Office Association explains that our jobs exist for the purpose of serving others.”
It was this commitment to service that motivated professionals from across the state to donate to the Mississippi Food Network and its food pantries at the MSU Statewide Office Associates’ meeting June 19-20.
Curry said the planning committee decided to promote the service project instead of having traditional door prizes at the annual meeting.
“We learned that other state associations have adopted similar service projects, and we wanted to do the same and give back to people in need,” Curry said.
The food drive was chosen as the office associates’ service project after Curry spoke to Chiquita Briley, an assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion, about the difficulty of keeping food on the shelves at Starkville food banks. Briley said demand at food banks rose not only because of the economic recession, but also because Mississippi has the nation’s highest poverty rate at 19.3 percent.
“According to the Kids Count’s 2008 report, at least 30 percent of children in Mississippi live in poverty, and many of them live in households where total income is less than $22,000 a year,” Briley said. “The escalated number of families already coming to the local food pantries in addition to more families being affected by the economic recession has caused a surge in those who rely on their local food pantry.”
Briley said while food drives and monetary donations are two primary ways to address this need, state food banks also need volunteers to pack and distribute food, and to deliver food to senior citizens in need. She said the Mississippi Food Network would like to involve more programs like the Back Pack Program and Kid’s Café, which provide food for children in poverty.
“If organizations and individuals would gather to assist their local pantries or community agencies to start one of these programs, it would benefit one of our most vulnerable and valuable populations: children,” Briley said. “If you are a farmer, and after harvesting there is a large quantity of produce left, there are organizations such as the Society of St. Andrew that are willing to collect and distribute the produce to food pantries and communities.”
As a representative of one of Mississippi Food Network’s food pantries in Starkville, Danny Setaro said the drive succeeded. Setaro, who is president of the St. Vincent De Paul Council at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Starkville, said the donations allowed their pantry to distribute 216 bags of groceries on June 20.
“From their donations, there were 136 cans of vegetables, 32 cans of soup, 22 cans of fruit, 31 cans of protein (tuna, chicken, etc.), and 20 boxes of dry goods,” Setaro said. “I’m thankful to all of the Extension offices throughout the state for their generosity to the needy families of Oktibbeha County.”