Jackson — Things are happening at the Mississippi Food Network (MFN). The 23-year-old organization has a new executive director, is still in disaster mode and has adopted a new goal to fight obesity.
Walker Satterwhite, 48, became the new director January 1, 2006. He served as the MFN’s operations manager for 14 years. Prior to that he gained experience in warehousing and logistics as operations manager for a company that built parts for Ford Motor Company. He knew of MFN’s work because his company donated barrels to the Jackson-based organization and became an employee when his company moved to Mexico.
“It’s a great opportunity and I’m real excited about it,” Satterwhite said. “My number one goal is to keep everything running smoothly and keep food flowing to the needy in Mississippi.”
His appointment follows the retirement of John Alford. Satterwhite praised Alford’s service, saying, “His guidance has taught me a lot. I worked closely with him and he was like a father to me.”
The network has 17 employees with 105 years of combined experience in food banking. Satterwhite says all of them believe in what the group is doing and there’s not much of a turnover in the organization.
MFN has a vision to eliminate poverty-related hunger in its service area, an area that includes the whole state for U.S. Department of Agriculture products. The service area consists of 60 counties for non-USDA products with Memphis serving the northern counties and Mobile serving the extreme southern counties.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program gives MFN an allocation to distribute, some food comes from America’s Second Harvest and 150,000 to 200,000 pounds is purchased each year. The food is distributed through a network of organizations that include soup kitchens, homeless shelters, group homes, food pantries and children’s programs. Food pantries receive the most with 50% of those run by churches. Satterwhite says that’s because food pantries take care of the needs of so many people.
Seven million pounds of food were earmarked for disaster relief and were distributed between September 1 and December 31 in counties in the national designated disaster area.
Satterwhite says the hurricane changed a lot of things for MFN by increasing the need for food. Any evacuees still needing food will become part of the network’s regular programs, and MFN is increasing the amount of food they give to those programs.
“We will continue to help people,” he said. “This is the biggest challenge we’ve had and the first time we’ve dealt directly with a hurricane.”
Local donors step up
The disaster has not drained its food, mainly because local donors stepped up and made the difference. Those included Kroger, Brookshires and Sanderson Farms. “They filled in the gap,” Satterwhite said. “We could not have done it without them. The local people did such a fantastic job of relaying our needs to their corporate offices.”
MFN’s new director also praises the efforts of volunteers.
“The civilian people have made the difference,” he said. “They rolled up their sleeves and worked to get food distributed where it was needed.”
The network’s board of directors is concerned about the growing problem of obesity in Mississippi. They want to increase the amount of fresh produce and nutritious food distributed. “We want to make a concerted effort and are working on programs now,” Satterwhite said. “It’s a big challenge for us. We need to work out ways to get fresh fruits and vegetables to people in a timely manner.”
He says there is also a need to educate people about better food choices. This will be done working with existing agencies and through access to dietitians with the State Health Department.
Million-plus pounds a month
The network distributes more than one million pounds of food per month to 296 member organizations that represent 77,000 people. Member organizations go through screening, orientation and training before being added to the roll. After they join the ranks, member agencies are monitored for accountability.
“There’s a lot of reporting. That’s what has made us such a stable organization,” Satterwhite said.
Like all nonprofits, the Mississippi Food Network has fundraisers. JoAnn Alford has been in charge of development and is retiring along with her husband, John. “She has done a great job of coming up with different fundraisers and has written grants,” Satterwhite said. “She is staying for the next six months to acclimate the new development person and it is nice of her to stay.”
He adds that both Alfords will be missed and that they, along with the board of directors, have left the MFN with a very strong foundation of donors.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.