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Metro-area charities need variety of holiday help

Canned food, money, volunteers

Metro Jackson charities have a variety of needs this holiday season as they scramble to cover budget shortfalls by year-end.

“Our food situation is critical because during the hurricane season, America’s Second Harvest, the national association that gets us new food from companies like Kellogg’s and Nabisco, still donated food but much of it was diverted to hurricane relief,” said John Alford, director of the Mississippi Food Network. “We probably lost a quarter of a million pounds of food. Right now, we’re having a lot of food drives to make up that difference. Charities are doing the best they can with the available food. People’s needs are being met, but not to the extent we wish they were.”

Renovation work for service facilities is Stewpot Community Services’ primary need, said director Frank Spencer.

“Because of the reduced giving in the last couple of years, we need funds, labor and supplies,” he said. “For example, the Sims House needs repair and painting on the outside, and the men’s shelter needs tile work done in the bathrooms. We have a long list of repairs that need to be made to keep the facilities from deteriorating further.”

Monetary contributions top the list at Gateway Rescue Mission, said director Rex Baker.

“Rising gas prices and hurricane relief efforts, things like that tend to siphon donations from us to other charitable entities,” he said. “We had a moderate decrease in donations that we need to make up by the end of the year.”

Volunteers are always welcomed at the Pearl thrift store, said Baker.

“Also, with the weather getting colder, we need blankets and coats,” he said. “In-kind donations like used clothes and furniture to sell in our thrift stores are as good as money.”

Demand for food climbs

The Mississippi Food Network serves 288 churches and charities in 74 Mississippi counties and 12 parishes in northeastern Louisiana at least once monthly. This year, approximately 16 million pounds of food will be distributed to 60,000 people, of which 47% are children, 38% are seniors, and the balance represent unemployed or underemployed working age adults.

“The demand for food has increased, especially among working age people who have lost hours of employment, part-time jobs or plant jobs,” said Alford. “The depressed economic condition continues to impact Mississippi.”

The network’s Food for Families high school football program, now in its 13th year, is helping fill the gap for needy families. At press time, more than 600,000 items had been contributed through the program this fall.

“We told each school what we needed, and almost every school brought us what we asked for,” he said. “I’m always grateful and amazed the students take to this sort of project. They really respond.”

The Mississippi Food Network has one of the best records in the state for efficiency. “We’re debt-free,” said Alford. “We operate with a small bottom line. We have a positive cash flow. And I’m real pleased to tell you that 98.3% of all dollars donated to us go to fund our programs as opposed to administrative, general and fundraising costs. We’ve been blessed.”

Approximately 5% of the food distributed to needy families is purchased wholesale from the network’s food purchase account, funded by monetary gifts from the public. These items represent supplements that are needed but seldom donated, such as flour, sugar, cornmeal, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, canned beef stew, cooking oil, paper products and diapers.

“The greatest thing that could be done for us would be for some organization, like a law office or bank, to volunteer to host a food drive or fundraiser,” said Alford. “For every $1 we receive, we distribute 15 pounds of food.”

Unlike other charities, Mississippi Food Network doesn’t need volunteers “because we’re handling 300,000 pounds of food a day, so we have to have a warehouse staff with forklifts running all day long,” Alford explained.

Volunteers needed

Stewpot and Gateway do need volunteers to help assemble and deliver holiday meals. On Thanksgiving and Christmas, Stewpot will hand out 800 baskets consisting of turkeys and trimmings in Jackson. On Christmas, another 160 will be distributed in Canton. Gateway will prepare 300 Thanksgiving meals.

“We’re planning a women’s shelter, which we’d like to get going in 2006,” said Baker. “We’re always in need of money for projects like that.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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