Adrian Rias, a volunteer with the Southern Foundation, serves lunch to local kids at the Starkville Sportsplex on Friday. The facility began hosting a feeding program for youth 18 and under throughout the summer. Photo by: Alex Holloway/Dispatch Staff
June 2, 2018 10:03:47 PM
Food insecurity, even in the Golden Triangle, is a more pressing issue than most people might realize.
That was former Mississippi District 38 Rep. Tyrone Ellis' message for the crowd gathered at the Starkville Sportsplex Friday morning for the kickoff event of a new summer feeding program. The Starkville Parks and Recreation Department is hosting the program, which offers free meals for youth 18 years old and younger throughout the summer, in partnership with the Southern Foundation for Homeless Children.
Ellis said Noxubee County, where he pastors a church, has benefited from a similar program with the Southern Foundation to battle food insecurity. He cited the U.S. Department of Agriculture's definition of food insecurity, which is limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally-adequate and safe food, or limited ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.
"I was exposed to food insecurity a few years ago when our church conducted a study and found how bad off we were in Noxubee County," Ellis said. "I soon discovered that hunger is closer than you think.
"Hunger can be right in your back door or your front door and you're not even aware of it," he added.
In the Golden Triangle, hunger is prevalent enough that more than 50 percent of school children receive free and reduced meals at public schools, said Southern Foundation CEO Gwendolyn Gray. Southern Foundation works in 30 counties across the state to offer similar feeding programs.
"I was very elated to see the support we have here, today," she said, "and most of all, to see these children here and being served here today."
Dozens of children lined up to receive the program's first meal of the summer as volunteers served them a lunch of hot dogs and hamburgers. Through July 31, the kids can come back on weekdays for breakfast from 8-10 a.m. and lunch from 1-3 p.m.
The program is focused at the Sportsplex, but will have additional locations at Sandhill Apartments, Reeds Place Apartments, West Side Park and Brooksville Garden apartments, according to material provided at Friday's event.
Starkville's Parks and Recreation Department Interim Director Gerry Logan said the department is hosting the program thanks to a $35,000 grant from the National Recreation and Parks Association. Starkville was one of 32 cities across the United States selected for the grant, and one of only 10 rural communities from Mississippi, Colorado and Kansas.
Logan said the department has also worked with the Starkville-MSU Area Rapid Transit (SMART) system to set up transportation to the Sportsplex. The proposed routes, which will go before aldermen for consideration on Tuesday, will have pickup points at West Side Park and Chandler Park.
"We're very excited to offer that," Logan said. "If you don't live right here close to the Sportsplex, we're going do our best to get you here."
Logan said parks and recreation departments can be used for much more than most people realize. He said it's not uncommon to see departments in other parts of the country tackle issues such as food insecurity, and he hopes to see that trend grow in Mississippi.
"Across the rest of the nation, parks and recreation departments in large cities, but also rural communities, assist in solving needs like this," he said. "It's not quite as common in Mississippi as I would like personally, but we're working on that."
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