By Halleigh Derrick
Graduate Assistant for the School of Applied Sciences
During the holidays, food drives and monetary donations spike. Nearly one-third of all donations happen during the month of December. But, what about the other 11 months of the year?
Dr. David H. Holben, professor and director for the Office of Food and Nutrition Security, has been researching food insecurity in the state of Mississippi since 2015.
“Food insecurity is the lack of regular access to food and nutrients to sustain a healthy active lifestyle,” Holben said.
According to the USDA, 11.8 percent of households in the US were considered food insecure at some point throughout 2018. In Mississippi, one in five people struggles with food insecurity in their home, compared to the one in nine people who struggle across the United States.
“Food insecurity doesn’t show up in just one way,” Holben said.
Food insecurity can present itself when having to choose between food to last your family for the week or running water, electricity or even transportation to get to and from school and work.
“People donate food and volunteer their time during the holidays because it is more evident what people are missing. But, this is a year-round problem,” says Holben.
It can also lead to lifelong illnesses, obesity, and other complications.
“Food insecurity is a preventable health threat,” said Holben.
In Lafayette County, 18.4 percent of the population is affected by food insecurity, and Oxford residents have taken action to help.
More Than A Meal has been providing nutritious meals, household essentials and tutoring services to the community since 2009. Run completely by volunteers, More Than A Meal serves 80 to 100 guests every Tuesday at the Stone Center on Washington Avenue.
“One of the best things about More Than A Meal is that we fill a need in our community through offering a safe place for families to come together and enjoy a hot meal. It offers a chance for guests to have fellowship and a sense of community,” said Sarah McLellan, current president of More Than A Meal.
Some of those affected by food insecurity are children. Since 2010, an organization called Love Packs has offered children in the Oxford-Lafayette school district take-home lunches for the weekends, including canned soups, granola bars, and other non-perishable products.
“People don’t think food insecurity is a problem in the Oxford community, but it is,” said Mary Leary, co-founder of Love Packs. “During the week, the kids are given breakfast and lunch at school but are left during the weekends to fend for themselves. Our packs can help them over those two days.”
“Before this program, teachers, coaches and other individuals who noticed children taking milk and other food home from school for the weekend, would use their own money to help. When we started Love Packs, we were packing around 22 bags a week for children at Bramlett Elementary School, now we serve about 178 kids from kindergarten to 12th grade across the Oxford-Lafayette School District.”
The program’s resources come from the Oxford and Ole Miss community, including Greek organizations at Ole Miss, local churches and businesses that provide meals and toiletries for guests. Ole Miss students volunteer with the program by setting up, handing out toiletries, helping kids with crafts and cleaning up.
“We operate on a 100% volunteer basis. Everything is donated. People either donate food for the pantry or give money, which we use to purchase more food,” said Leary. “Our volunteers are people throughout the community and we also work with special needs children. They will help us with stocking the pantry or filling the bags. If everyone who has a little to give will do what they can, we can see that no child in the Oxford community has to go hungry.”