Stepping Up

A smiling man wearing a blue checkered shirt.
Robert Jamison, volunteer

Extension food pantry serves rural community 

On Tuesdays and Thursdays before lunch, Robert Jamison is usually exercising with people who have been his neighbors in Lambert for 30 years.

The Quitman County Veterans Service Officer also volunteers for a food pantry there that serves about 800 local families every other month. The county does not have a grocery store, but the pantry, since it opened in 2014, has helped people in need.

These activities have two things in common: they happen at the town’s community center, and the Mississippi State University Extension Service was instrumental in their creation.

“These programs are helpful for the community—not only to Lambert, but to all of Quitman County,” Jamison says. “We’ve got a lot of people who live in rural areas, and it’s several miles to the nearest store. This food pantry gives nutritious food to people who wouldn’t be able to get it.”

Extension’s Quitman County office works with the Mid-South Food Bank, Mississippi Food Network, and Quitman County Veterans Service. Together, they distribute food and deliver nutrition education programs at the community center, which is owned by the Delta Mission Outreach Ministry and Alliance. Jamison’s office is also in the building.

During each distribution day, Extension program assistant Angie Crawford and Extension agent Mari Alyce Earnest deliver nutrition education programs at the community center. They show recipients how to use the items in the food boxes to make healthy, nutritionally balanced dishes on a budget. They also lead the indoor exercise class, which they began last January and modeled after Let’s Move!, a federal initiative to solve obesity problems.

Crawford describes Jamison as “one of the regulars” in the classes, which usually have up to a dozen participants.

“He’s well known in the community, and we enjoy having him in the group because he’s very personable, and people here love him,” she says.

Jamison jokes that he has no choice but to take part in the class being held just outside his office.

“The exercise group has been very helpful for our community, too,” he says. “I know it’s helped me out.”

In September 2016, MSU personnel conducted a survey during a distribution day. More than half of the 90 respondents indicated they could not afford to eat balanced meals before the food pantry began operations. Nearly 90 percent said they can now eat healthy meals using what they receive from the pantry.

The survey also asked participants if they ran out of food before the end of each month both before and after the pantry was established. Sixty-two percent of the respondents said they no longer run out of food before the end of the month.

Crawford said more than 100 new families apply for service at the pantry each year. As part of the Mid-South Food Bank network, the pantry receives three meals for every $1 donated. Volunteers and Extension personnel pack protein foods, whole grains, and two or three types of fruits and vegetables in each box.

“The center wasn’t used a lot until the food pantry program started. Once people got used to going there, they started having more activities to bring community members together,” Crawford said.

Delois Turner, a longtime resident of Lambert, is like many beneficiaries of the pantry. Crawford says Turner worked many years in jobs that did not offer retirement benefits, and she is taking care of other family members and already relying on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“The food we get from the pantry helps subsidize what we are missing,” Turner said. “I feel like this has also helped my eating habits, because I’m thinking about whether something is good for me before I eat it.”

Jamison is one of several volunteers who keep this opportunity possible for families in need, but he is quick to give credit to Extension for playing a lead role.

“Angie and Mari Alyce not only help get healthy food to people who can’t always afford to get it, but they show them how to make dishes out of what they get in their box,” he says. “Extension has helped our town out a great deal.”

MSU Extension Service
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