Bridging the Great Health Divide: Food insecurity

Updated: Jun. 17, 2021 at 10:42 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Imagine not having consistent access to food for every person in your household. It is a sad reality for many Mississippians.

Longtime supervisor James Young admits Holmes County is starving for more grocery stores and better access to healthy food options.

“Seven miles from here near the town of Goodman has zero grocery stores. Pickens, which is seven miles from Goodman, has zero grocery stores,” said Young.

The lack of access is creating food insecurity for residents and a food desert in the rural county. A food desert is defined as an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food.

Food insecurity is defined as the lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.

Senior citizen Shirley Greer has lived in Holmes County since the 1960s. She feels the state and federal leaders don’t pay enough attention to the ongoing food problems.

“They are the entities that bring in supplies and things to us, and if they’re not concerned then we are on the lacking in,” she said.

Holmes County has a population of a little more than 16,000 - the 55th largest county in Mississippi. Yet 34% of the population was food insecure in 2017. That’s more than triple the national average of 10.5% at the time.

Holmes County also had the second highest percentage of its population that was food insecure in the nation.

“Food is a necessity, especially healthy eating that plays a major role. We have obesity, that leads to diabetes, high blood pressure,” said Young.

Health experts say these percentages are likely much higher now because of the pandemic.

Residents say their problems have been exasperated in the Delta due to transportation challenges, lack of money, jobs, and growing unemployment numbers.

“In rural areas, we are just like people in a bigger city, we are human, and we need food,” said an Issaquena County resident.

In that county, their geographical location has left a major void when it comes to food options.

“It is hard for family members to get food,” said a resident.

While food insecurity and food deserts can’t be solved with just one approach, there are those on the front lines of the fight including The Mississippi Food Network.

“As you can see with multiple items here, from sweet peas to vegetables to fruits,” said Director of Operations, Quincy Robinson.

Thanks to help of generous donors, organization can partner with pantries, soup kitchens and organizations to provide 1.5 million pounds of food to feed 150 thousand people across the state monthly. They also deliver.

I was there as an 18-wheeler loaded with food made its monthly stop to a local pantry in the small town Mayersville in Issaquena County. It is a welcome site for the mayor and many residents.

“It is a big help. We all need it, you know, and some things less we have to pay for,” said resident Ruthie Bunton.

“It is very important to give a well-balanced meal to everyone when they need it,” said Robinson.

While they have had some success, there are limitations to what they can do and have needs.

“These areas in the Delta, when we are sending them this produces and when these consumables like milk and eggs, they must have a place to store them. Right now, a lot of agencies in the area is struggling with that,” said Robinson.

Durant Missionary Baptist Church in Holmes County also partners with Mississippi Food Network to provide food to hundreds of needy families and the elderly.

“We opened it because there was a dire need for fruits and vegetables and some meats that we couldn’t get after our main grocery store some years ago,” said Pearlie Brown.

Pearlie Brown helps run the pantry. She has seen at a 30% increase since the pandemic began last year.

“The need is greater, and I have people calling me that I would not normally have never came in contact with,” she said.

“If people from the higher levels don’t start investing into small counties, the only people that are going to be left are the ones who are too poor to move out,” said Young.

Meanwhile, the work to bridge the gap continues.

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