As the Nettleton F.A.I.T.H. Food Pantry prepared for its monthly Saturday food pantry on Oct. 19, it did so knowing these next few months will see its largest share of clients for the year.

Meanwhile, the Oxford Community Market continues its third annual year of the Harvest Angel Project, which buys food from local farmers for harvest baskets to be distributed to the Oxford Food Pantry for Thanksgiving.

Both initiatives center around addressing food insecurity. According to 2017 data from Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap 2019, Lee County had 13,690 food insecure people in 2017 while Monroe had 6,150. SNAP participation in Lafayette County was 1,689 households for a value of $387,330 in June 2018, according to the 2018 Annual Report from the Mississippi Department of Human Services.

Since its inception in 2013, the Oxford Community Market has been the only Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) retailer market in Lafayette County, according to community market director Bethany Chapman. The market sees at least 400 customers at its weekly Tuesday farmer’s market and has been able to grow the number of programs they have available to help low income community members have access to fresh food.

“One of the central parts of our mission is to address food insecurity and use the farmer’s market as a vehicle to sort of level the playing field,” Chapman said.

The Harvest Angel project is just one example of how the market addresses food insecurity, said Chapman. Thanks to support from partners such as Baptist Hospital, Move on Up Mississippi and United Way, the organization has been able to offer programs such as the OH, SNAP! Program, where it does a dollar-for-dollar match up to $10 to increase their purchasing power. The market also participates in the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce’s WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Voucher Program, which allows families to shop local produce. Chapman said the success of these programs has encouraged the creation of new programs each year.

“The mission (to address food insecurity) has been there since the beginning, and we’ve steadily built on it over the last five years,” Chapman said.

The Nettleton F.A.I.T.H. Food Pantry is one of 11 food pantries/soup kitchens in the Lee County and Monroe County area served by the Mid-South Food Bank in Memphis, according to a Jan. 27 Daily Journal article. For nearly 20 years, the pantry has served residents of Nettleton, Shannon, Verona and Plantersville School Districts by providing supplementary food items for applicants who meet guidelines set by the Mississippi Department of Human Services. From January to September of this year, they’ve served 7,142 families.

The pantry receives food and money from the Mississippi Food Network, the Mid-South Food Bank, United Way, EFSP, the Feeding America Program, and local donations.

“We get a good local response. Some of the businesses uptown, if we need something extra, they’ll just donate it to us. NAPA is really good about, if we need something for our truck, they’ll just donate it. The people appreciate what we do,” said Jim Long, executive director.

Long said they see about 800 families, but October, November and December tend to be the biggest months. Last year, 849, 900, and 873 families were served from October-December. The pantry is open every third Saturday morning from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and emergency boxes are also available Wednesday of each week from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Chapman said transportation, economic barriers and consumer education are three tenets the Oxford Community Market addresses to combat food insecurity. The market currently partners with Oxford University Transit to reach additional consumers who needed access to the market, and said being located at the Old Armory Pavilion helps since it is a major transportation hub for buses.

As a food bank in a rural area, Long said they’ve been able to partner with other local food banks, such as St. Luke United Methodist Church Food Pantry and Fulton United Methodist Church, and local agencies to distribute fresh produce, frozen goods, canned goods, meat and other food items.

Long said for the pantry’s clients’ primary issues stems more from having a lack of funds to get necessary resources rather than their distance from grocery stores. He has seen an increase in approximately 4,300 more clients this year than around this same time last year, but said over the years client numbers have been stable and they have been able to serve everyone who comes to them on time.

“I don’t think that (transportation is) a big problem for our people. It may be, I don’t know. I’ve seen that as a national thing saying they can’t find stuff, but we have grocery stores and they can buy anything. It’s not a matter of being able to buy, it’s about not having the money to buy it with. The people we serve are the ones who don’t have the funds to go to the store and buy it,” Long said.

Chapman hopes her organization can communicate the value of farmer’s markets on community development, healthy lifestyles and having healthy gathering spaces within the community.

“We’ve gotten a lot of great support from the community and our customers, but right now, like any small nonprofit, we’re fundraising because we not only want to maintain these programs and grow them now, but we want to continue operating them for years to come,” Chapman said.

Twitter: @Danny_McArthur_

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