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United We Feed aims to help stock local food pantries

 

Joshua Starr

 

 

Peter's Rock Food Pantry has served food-insecure members of the Mississippi State University, Starkville and surrounding communities since 1997.  

 

Pantry director Betty Young said 25 percent or more of food the pantry dispenses comes from food drives like United We Feed. 

 

"Food drives that donate to our pantry are a great help to us because...sometimes we don't have enough canned goods," Young said. "With the contributions from food drives, it helps us to have enough food to serve the community." 

 

Peter's Rock is one of 14 pantries and three other programs that will benefit from the United Way of North Central Mississippi's fourth annual United We Feed food drive being held through Nov. 19.  

 

The organization hopes to double donations in Choctaw, Webster, Winston and Oktibbeha counties during the food drive this year. 

 

United Way Executive Director Candy Crecink said the 2015 United We Feed drive was almost like a pilot program for the organization's new board.  

 

"We really didn't know what to expect, so we didn't really set a goal," Crecink said. "In the end, by our measurements, (we collected) 3.5 tons (in 2015). People who had been either donors or participants in previous years said this is about 10 to 20 times more than in the past." 

 

Though the 2015 United We Feed drive was a success, she said program organizers are using that past experience this year to improve efforts to address a great need in the Starkville community. 

 

According to the USDA, Mississippi ranks first in the nation in food insecurity, a measure that indicates the prevalence of hunger.  

 

Through the program, Crecink said she has become aware of the extent to which food insecurity affects Oktibbeha County's various communities. 

 

"We have multitudes who need as much assistance with food we can [provide]. It's really ironic. We're on such a positive upswing in the Starkville area, but when you look around, you can see how many of our neighbors are in just destitute situations," Crecink said. "There's one food pantry that told us over 90 percent of their participants are MSU students," Crecink said. "They have enough money for their tuition, their books and supplies, and most of them have part-time jobs that help cover room and board. After all that, there's just not a whole lot left for food." 

 

 

 

Expanded efforts 

 

Angella Baker, United Way board member and chairwoman of United We Feed in Oktibbeha County, said with expanded outreach efforts, greater participation from civic groups and businesses and more volunteers, the organization hopes to stock the pantries this year with seven tons, which totals about five months worth of food for each pantry. 

 

Chick-fil-A is offering a 10-percent discount on any meal for any donation brought to its Highway 12 location, Baker said. 

 

"We also have MSU athletes helping us out on Nov. 12," she added. "We've got a special promotion going on at the (Oktibbeha County) Co-op (where) we're collecting pet supplies as well as food items. ...We're really promoting it and trying to get the community involved." 

 

Baker said new campaign partner Volunteer Starkville held its own food drive in the past but has consolidated efforts with United Way to increase United We Feed donations by organizing more volunteers. 

 

Baker said volunteers will be stationed at Kroger and Vowell's Marketplace every Saturday to encourage donations and will also collect food regularly from the drive's donation points at participating Starkville businesses, which include Synergetics DCS, Kroger, Walmart, Vowell's Marketplace, Starkville Properties, Oktibbeha County Co-op and the Cadence Bank on Main Street. 

 

"I have a spreadsheet full of names -- at least 50 will be volunteering Saturday at our staffed locations," Baker said. 

 

For more information on the United We Feed drive, contact the United Way of North Central Mississippi office at 662-323-3830.

 

 

 

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