Let’s take a glance at the numbers so far this year.
6.5 Million Pounds Collected and Distributed
19.6 Million Servings of Fresh Produce Provided
5,414 Passionate Volunteers Engaged
938 Events to End Hunger Held
744 Recipient Agencies Received Food
Now let’s check out the latest good news.
“It’s really just about neighbors helping neighbors…”
Itta Bena is a small town in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, with only a few claims to fame. It was mentioned in the movie, “O, Brother Where Art Thou?,” it is the birthplace of legendary blues musician B.B. King, and it is home to the university where athlete Jerry Rice played college football.
Located in the Mississippi Delta, Itta Bena is only home to roughly 2,000 people and the town’s food insecurity rate is a staggering 32%. That means that nearly one in three people struggle with hunger.
That is almost triple the national average food insecurity rate of 12%. Life can be tough in Itta Bena. But there’s a glimmer of hope: a community champion.
Henry can be called a United Methodist, a retiree, a grandfather, a football fan, and a champion for his community. He would probably prefer most people simply call him “Coach,” as he was called by his team for many years.
Itta Bena is also classified as a “food desert.” That means there’s no easily accessible grocery store. In fact, the nearest grocery is a Wal-Mart in a town seven miles away.
This makes the situation even more bleak for elderly people who cannot drive themselves. Coach says that people routinely charge these seniors a fee to drive them to the Wal-Mart in the next town.
That additional expense with their already fixed-incomes doesn’t leave much room for fresh fruits and vegetables in their grocery budgets.
For five years now, Coach and several church members have worked together to offer a variety of fresh vegetables to their town through a community garden project.
The local extension service provides soil testing and recommendations while the volunteers provide the many hours of hard work preparing the soil each year, sowing seeds, tending plants, and regularly harvesting the food.
Coach explains that during the growing season, the volunteers harvest the ripe vegetables every few days and leave them in a container at the end of the garden. The members of the community will come to take only what they need.
Through volunteering with the Society of St. Andrew’s (SoSA’s) Gleaning Network, Coach and his steadfast volunteers are able to bring larger quantities of food into their community.
He explained how one pickup truck full of sweet potatoes allows them to give food to more than 300 people. Partnership with SoSA is a way to reach more people in their community.
Bringing larger quantities and different varieties of food into Itta Bena uncovered a new need: the need for culinary education.
Many people in Itta Bena are eager for fresh food and gladly accept what is offered, but don’t know how to clean, process, or cook many of these fresh produce items.
For example, cauliflower is a crop that raised questions. So Coach reached out to the local extension service which sent out an agent who shared several recipes and even provided a demonstration on how to prepare, process, and cook the cauliflower.
Over the past year, Coach’s church has adopted new roles within SoSA’s Gleaning Network. They have served as volunteers, gleaners, drivers, field supervisors, speakers, and now they take up a monthly offering for SoSA.
They believe that giving back is just as important as receiving and want to give back to help other communities. Coach says, “It’s really just about neighbors helping neighbors. We’re all in this together…”
Not interested or able to glean the fields? You can still serve with SoSA!
Volunteers help glean fields but they also coordinate events, tie bags, sew, write, fund-raise, drive trucks, and many other things in the mission to end hunger.
Each person serves a very important role in the Society of St. Andrew’s Gleaning Network.
Volunteering is the ideal way for people who live in a state with a SoSA regional office to get involved in gleaning, food rescue, and feeding hungry people—on a schedule that works for them and within an hour of home.
If you believe that hunger is a problem with a solution, if you don’t mind a little dirt, if you don’t mind asking for help, and if you have a passion to get healthy food to people in great need, you have what it takes to join the mission!