Food banks across the country are showing the strains of a slowdown in the economy. In many cases, demand for the services of food banks is growing, but funding and support isn’t.
With such great need, corporate support is vital to maintain food banks in the state such as the Mississippi Food Network (MFN). The MFN serves more than 80,000 needy Mississippians each month through a network of 300-plus member agencies that include food pantries, soup kitchens, emergency shelters, after-school programs and a Kids Café.
Walker Satterwhite, executive director of the MFN, said during 2007 they have seen a decrease in individual giving.
“Additional corporate support would allow us to better serve our member agencies and their clients,” Satterwhite said. “With the increase in the demand comes a need to have more food available for distribution through our 320 member agencies. Donations from corporate donors and/or sponsors would give us the resources to purchase product by the truckload.”
The MFN works hard to make sure donations are stretched as far as possible. It uses purchasing power through its affiliation with America’s Second Harvest to buy food at less than wholesale price. Bulk purchasing also enables it to provide more food choices to its member agencies and to stock staple items such as rice, pasta, flour, cornmeal and sugar in its warehouse.
Demand for its services in growing.
“With the cost increase in the basic necessities of life, our member agencies are seeing an increase in the demand for their services,” Satterwhite said. “Many working families cannot afford to pay their mortgage/rent, utilities, gasoline, medical costs and still provide enough food for their families each month.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2007 the cost of food increased 5.7%, transportation increased 6% and medical care increased 5.1%. Satterwhite said families are finding it more challenging to feed their families during the month and must rely on food pantries to keep their children from being hungry.
“According to 2006 American Community Survey, 21.1% of the population in Mississippi lives below the poverty level compared to 13.3% in the United States,” he said. “The median household income in Mississippi is $34,374 compared to $48,451 in the United States.”
The MFN would like to expand to serve more needy people in the state. But it currently is not taking on any new agencies where they are already serving clients.
“We are focusing on areas where we do not currently have any agencies,” Satterwhite said. “This will help ensure that Mississippians in all parts of our state are being served.”
Higher fuel prices have had a big impact two ways. Families have less to spend on food because of higher prices for gasoline. And the MFN has faced has increased costs to deliver orders to member agencies. It is particularly expensive to serve distant rural areas of the state. Satterwhite said the higher fuel costs have had a major impact on its operation’s budget this year, limiting the amount of food it planned to purchase during the year.
During the holidays as families see an increase in their spending, there is always an increased demand for emergency food.
“Our member agencies that operate food pantries pack Thanksgiving and Christmas boxes for their clients,”Satterwhite said. “The member agencies also stock more in their pantries for the increased need they experience during the holidays.”
Satterwhite said Mississippi businesses play a vital role in helping the MFN feed families in the state. One company that has been a consistent supporter is Nucor Steel in Flowood.
“We think it is important because it is the right thing to do as a company and as individuals,” said Jim Sheble, vice president and general manager of Nucor Steel. “The people here at Nucor are very giving. They have always risen to the occasion when we have had this type of drive. In addition, part of Nucor’s goal is to be cultural and environmental stewards of the community where we live and work. This is part of our goal to be cultural stewards in our community and take care of those who need help.”
Nucor holds food drives around holidays and asks employees to bring canned goods or a donation. The employees can even use payroll deduction if they want. Usually there is a contest between different departments with pizzas given away as the prize to the winning department.
“Usually Nucor will at least match whatever the employees come up with so we are a part of it, but I have to give the credit to our employees,” Sheble said.
Kroger Co. is one of the largest corporate contributors to the MFN and other food banks throughout the region. Kroger was recently-for the fifth time in seven years—honored as “Retailer of the Year” by America’s Second Harvest, the largest hunger relief organization in the United States.
Kroger was honored for donating more than 30 million pounds of food and other needed products last year. In addition, the Company’s “Bringing Hope to the Table” campaign, a nationwide promotion that encourages customers to purchase items from participating suppliers to support local food banks, raised more than $6 million in the last two years.
“We cannot express enough how grateful we are for the endless support Kroger provides year after year,” said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of America’s Second Harvest. “Kroger has truly been instrumental in the fight to end hunger in America.”
Lynn Marmer, Kroger’s group vice president of corporate affairs and a member of the board of directors of America’s Second Harvest, said the company considers it vital to work with America’s Second Harvest in its efforts to end hunger in America.
“Our store, plant and distribution center managers, together with our associates throughout the Company, are dedicated to this important effort and work closely with local food banks to help feed hungry people in the communities Kroger serves,” Marmer said.
Approximately 40% of MFN’s operating funds come from grants and gifts from individuals, area churches, businesses and foundations.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.