Mississippi is the most food-insecure state in the nation. One out of five people in the state does not know where their next meal will come from. MPB’s Alexandra Watts spends a day in a food pantry to see what happens when demand is larger than supply.
It’s a Saturday Morning in Charleston, and Joe Young and Faith Food Pantry volunteers are getting ready to hand out boxes of food to Tallahatchie County residents at Faith Baptist Church.
“Normally we serve 350 to 375 people," Young said. "A month ago, we served over 400 on this day, and that was a record crowd — for Saturday.”
According to Feeding America, Mississippi is the most food-insecure state in the nation. Twenty percent of Mississippians lack reliable access to a sufficient quality of affordable nutritious food.
Young, a pastor, runs another food pantry at Parchman. He said food distributions are scheduled in the middle of the month on purpose.
“We do our food pantry in all locations on the third Saturday of the month," he said. "[We think] when they run our food stamps, that we can be their backup. We try to help them out when their month gets longer than their check.”
Lee Fayne is one of those people. He stands outside the church and says his disability check and food stamps are not enough to cover his expenses.
"I pay the bills and when I’m done paying the bills, I probably have $48 and go buy hygiene products," Fayne said. "And they send me $75 worth of food stamps which lasts up until this time of the month and then you got things you don’t have. Like, in our refrigerator we have chicken and no other meat. We have like four packs of chicken and we’re going to try and make it stretch until the end of the month.”
In the Mississippi Delta, 26 percent of people are food insecure. There aren’t a lot of grocery stores in the area and Fayne says high grocery prices prevent him from buying certain foods.
“I come and pick up a box and bring it back to the house, and it helps me quite a bit because sometimes we don’t have the other items in there, especially the cereal and the fruit. We don’t have the money to buy it.”
Inside, the volunteers fill the boxes with crackers, cookies and canned goods. The final touch added to the boxes is the meat, which today is chicken and turkey.
Jimmy Pegues says he does all he can so the food he gets lasts.
"We cook about three times a week, and other time we eat sandwiches or whatever," he said. "I’m not a real big eater. I try not to waste it, we try not to waste food. Cook what you need and that’s it.”
Pegues lost his leg in an accident over 30 years ago and today he's a gardener — or as his business card says, a yard doctor.
He is one of the last to get his box of food, but signing up ahead of time will guarantee you will receive a box.
And once everyone who signed up has their box, the rest of the food is given away on a first come, first served basis.
Weeks of widespread flooding and severe weather have left many Delta residents displaced from their homes. Jeanette Jones said this has increased the demand for more food from the pantry.
“A lot of people don’t have anything," Jones said. "Their house was gutted, you know, no food…and we’re planning on giving extra.”
After nearly three hours of distributing food, Joe Young announces the pantry has run out of food for the first time.
“We had such an overwhelming crowd," Young said. "We were understaffed, under everything”.
Twenty-six people add their names and numbers to a waiting list before they leave to receive their boxes of food later in the week.
A soft-spoken woman named Glenda Miller comes in as the volunteers are cleaning up. She is told the pantry is out of food. But as she is about to leave, someone inside the pantry flags her down after finding extra food.
“I jumped out the car and came in here, and it was a blessing…blessing," she said. "She had meat. I got chicken. I got beans, I got rice. I got practically everything I need. Thank God…God is good.”
Miller has three grandchildren and says she doesn’t know where she would have gotten food.
“It’s been quite a while since I’ve been here because I had a heart attack, so I hadn’t been able to get out to get my stuff. After I had this heart attack a couple of months, and when I finally made it here, I was just happy. Because they had stuff for me and my grandkids.”
Joe Young says although the pantry is open only once a month, he says his job of feeding Tallahatchie County goes beyond just those few hours on a Saturday. Young said they keep their cellphones by their sides day and night — ready to distribute food to anyone in need.
"I’m not sure if we’re prepared, But we’re always trying to be proactive…to be ready," Young said.
And while the volunteers are done for the day, they already have distributions set up for the upcoming week to help residents in need.