Over 200 attend summer food program kickoff event

Volunteer Kimiko Lane serves food to children during the inaugural Summer Feeding Program kick off event Friday at the Sportsplex. (Photo by Logan Kirkland, SDN)
Staff Writer

Southern Foundation and the Starkville Parks and Recreation Department joined forces to host the inaugural Summer Feeding Program kickoff event at the Sportsplex on Friday.

Over 200 people from young to old participated in the event. It showcased bouncy houses, sack races, ring tosses and free food.

Starting June 1, meals will be served at the Sportsplex from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. The only day meals will not be served is on July 4.

The department received a $35,000 grant through the National Recreation and Park Association for the Walmart Foundation Healthy Out-of-School Time Meals Program.

The department will provide indoor space for the meals to be provided for both convenience and to avoid being out in the heat, which can be unbearable in the summer.

Transportation will be provided for those looking to participate in the program. Those stops include Chandler Park Apartments, J.L. King Memorial Park, Triangle Town Homes, and a stop located on Louisville Street.

The kick off event hosted a number of guest speakers including: the Director of Southern Foundation Summer Food Program James White, keynote speaker Rev. Tyrone Ellis, Director of Golden Triangle VBS Food Sites Regina Evans, CEO of Southern Foundation FHC, Inc Gwendolyn Gray and a representative of the USDA State Department of Education Child Nutrition.

Ellis thanked those attending, saying it is good for everyone participating in this program, because it is what the community was “called” to do.

Ellis said he wanted to give his thoughts on food insecurities throughout the community and state. He defined food insecurities as limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate or safe foods in socially acceptable ways.

Through a study his church did, Ellis said that’s when he discovered how bad off the state of Mississippi is, specifically in Noxubee County.

“Hunger is closer than you think,” Ellis said. “Hunger can be right in your back door and your front door and you’re not even aware of it.”

He said those in the community have blinders on, or have tunnel vision to only see what’s in front of themselves and those close to them, believing that everything seems to be alright.

“I stopped by to share with you this morning that everybody is not doing alright,” Ellis said. “There’s some child out there who has nothing to eat, some senior citizens out there who has no food to eat.”

He said if there weren’t feeding programs like this one, people would be going on throughout the community without meals to eat. He said as a community, people take these programs for granted, but people cannot afford to think like that.

“You need to get in the game or go home because the food insecurity issue is alive and well,” Ellis said. “Children need to be fed.”

Ellis said food security is defined as when all people at all times have access to sufficient safe and nutritious food for a healthy and active life.

“All people within the Golden Triangle do not have sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life,” Ellis said. Ellis said if people are displaced to an area where they have less access to a grocery store, or to an area without reliable transportation it harbors food insecurities.

“We can all do better,” Ellis said. “As a matter of fact, we all must do better.”

Interim Parks and Recreation Director Gerry Logan thanked all of the organizations involved, and said without the support of those in the community the summer food program couldn’t be a reality.

“We had the belief that we needed to do this,” Logan said. “Parks and recreation is so much more than folks realize.” Logan said he initially asked Southern Foundation how his department could help.

Although not having many resources to give, Logan said they did have the gym of the Sportsplex to offer.

Once the grant was awarded and the event began, Logan said he hopes communities throughout the state can see Starkville take initiative and follow their steps.

“I believe in Mississippi,” Logan said. “We serve all of you in Starkville and Oktibbeha County.”