"Who is actually hungry and starved to death in Mississippi?” That was part of a gnarly response to my column about the shame of Mississippi having the “hungriest county in the U.S.”
So, the measure of hunger we should be concerned about is death by starvation?
Somewhere in Mississippi children and seniors citizen are hungry. The statistics are overwhelming. Over 160,000 children, about one in four, struggle with hunger, the highest percentage in America. More than half of Mississippi seniors experience regular food shortfalls and almost half of those who are eligible for food stamps (SNAP) do not enroll.
A poor child gets sick and stays home from school so misses his or her free breakfast andr lunch. Oh, but there is food at home. Maybe not. The mother has to go to work and leaves the child with her mother. The poor grandmother, who is having to skip meals herself, isn’t expecting to keep the child so no food is available. Oh, but that’s only for a day or two. No one will starve.
The grandmother has no vehicle and no money. Her food stamps ran out. She’s too far out for one of the food pantries or meals on wheels deliveries. She can only get food when her daughter brings it to her or takes her to the store. She’s hungry but will not starve.
Prior to the pandemic, such stories took place in county after county across the state. During the pandemic, things worsened.
Mississippi’s network of organizations feeding the hungry is truly phenomenal. Hundreds of churches, charities, and social service organizations do heroic work to feed hundreds of thousands of children, senior citizens, the homeless, and others in need every month. They depend on over 40 food banks to supply them food.
For example, the Mississippi Food Network in central Mississippi supplies 430 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, senior citizen programs, afterschool programs and other service organizations in 56 counties which feed approximately 150,000 people monthly. The Mid-South Food Bank supply similar organizations in 18 north Mississippi counties. Feeding the Gulf Coast supplies 8 south Mississippi counties. Extra Table supplies 27 counties across the state. There are more.
That’s on top of public schools that provide free meals to over 300,000 children, about 69% of all students. That’s on top of the SNAP program that provides food vouchers to over 440,000 recipients and the multiple Meals on Wheels programs that feed over 13,000 seniors.
Despite this extraordinary effort, Mississippians still go hungry. But because of it, no-one starves to death.
Yet, some who don’t starve still die from hunger issues – people who have the means to obtain food (SNAP or otherwise) but live in a “food desert,” places with little or no access to affordable fresh food, e.g. grocery stores. So they live off of accessible junk and fast foods. The University Medical Center says this contributes to our woeful obesity, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension mortalities.
Yes, people are actually hungry. No, starvation is not the measure. But for the many who work so tirelessly to feed the hungry, it might be.
“A generous person will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor” – Proverbs 22:9.
» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicated columnist from Jackson.