A steady stream of cars maneuvered through the parking lot at St. Gregory The Great Catholic Church. The mobile pantry in Senatobia had been open for just over an hour. Volunteers and staff, with machine-like movement, gathered boxes and bags of produce, cereals, meats and other staples and placed them in the vehicles as they rolled through.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the nation’s food supply and economy, nearly one in every five Mississippians had trouble getting enough food due to lack of income or other issues. Many hardworking families and individuals live paycheck to paycheck, then suddenly, an illness or other disaster strikes and they can no longer afford food. Others juggle their bills every month, knowing there will never be enough money. Disruptions to food-supply chains, employment and other services because of COVID-19 have worsened these situations.
For more than six years, Sacred Heart Southern Missions has sponsored the DeSoto and Marshall County mobile pantries, providing fresh, nutritious food to struggling families and individuals each month. Our mobile pantry program brings regular food distributions to the hard-to-reach places that need it the most. A tractor-trailer full of fresh fruits, vegetables, shelf staples and meats is distributed at each of our mobile sites.
Given the toll this public health crisis has taken on communities across the area we serve, Sacred Heart Southern Missions has intensified its efforts to safeguard the health and wellbeing of poor families, especially older adults and children, who lack sustained access to healthy food and adequate nutrition. We added one, two, sometimes three extra mobile distribution sites each month to help offset the increased financial hardships brought on by the coronavirus this past year. With this surge in need at both our social service offices and mobile pantries, we distributed an astounding 1.2 million pounds of food.
Tragically, the disabled and elderly are some of the most vulnerable that we serve. Nearly one third of those who come to our social service offices for assistance are the elderly poor. Attempting to balance basic living expenses on fixed incomes, they are presented with an impossible choice—to pay for utilities, life-saving medicine or a meal on the table. And now, with this pandemic, they are more vulnerable and isolated than ever before.
“These days, at a trip to the grocery store, I only get about half of what I used to,” said Lee, as he waited in line. “I am on a fixed income. The price of everything has gone up, but what we old folks get has not. I can’t hardly afford to eat.”
Lee says our mobile pantries provide him with the extra groceries he needs to make it through the month. For his sister, Carol, who was in the car behind him, our distributions are even more critical. Carol has cancer.
“My twin sister, Carol, back there,” Lee motioned to the car behind his, “she is terminal. She can’t afford nothing with buying medicine and all. I told her about this food and it is helping her and her family out a whole lot.”
For seniors and other adults who are at high risk for COVID-19, our mobile pantry program is a blessing in several ways. Besides providing them with fresh, healthy food and supplementing their meager incomes, the drive-through distribution arrangement allows them to avoid crowded retail stores, thus reducing the possible exposure to the virus.
Mattie, another elderly woman in line commented, “This food sure helps me be able to pay my bills.” A friend had told Mattie about the mobile opportunity in Senatobia last month. Eagerly, she inquired when Sacred Heart would be returning for another distribution. “I was so glad that I could get it so close to home. Thank y’all so much!”
Food Pantry Manager Jose Franco said that grateful comments like these are a common occurrence at the mobiles. “You hear them all the time! There are so many people in need, and they are so thankful for the help.”