Feeding America recently teamed up with National Geographic to profile hunger in five different areas of the U.S. As a result of this partnership, I recently had the opportunity to spend a week in the Mississippi Delta – an area that includes two counties – Holmes and Humphreys – home to the highest rates of food insecurity in the U.S.
It’s my job to speak with people struggling with hunger; to share their stories and let their voices be heard. I’ve been around poverty in America, but even still, I was shocked by what I saw in the Delta. Poverty was widespread. People were living in inadequate housing, abandoned or burnt out homes lined the streets, stray dogs wandered about and jobs were scarce; fair-paying jobs even more so.
Consequently, hunger was all around. More than 32 percent of people living in Holmes and Humphreys counties struggle to get enough to eat – that’s nearly one in three. And the food that is available isn’t always the healthiest. In my experience from speaking with people and seeing the type of food accessible, many people’s diets were filled with cheap, high calorie, high carb food instead of fruits and vegetables that we all need to live a healthy life. I met a brother and sister both living with complications from type 2 diabetes. The brother, Albert, was going in blind in one eye, and his sister Peaches had lost her leg to the disease a few years ago. They were doing the best they good with the food available to them, but they still struggled to get the food they need to manage their disease.
I realize the Missisippi Delta is far from where Hurricane Katrina hit nearly a decade ago. Even so, I recalled the notorious storm as I stood in the midst of these poverty stricken towns. After Katrina, our nation’s attention was awakened to the harsh poverty prevailing within its borders. The storm’s damage catalyzed nationwide calls for reforms. Agencies were reformed. Rules were incited. Yet looking around the Mississippi Delta area, it seems that not much has changed – poverty and injustice are as prevalent as ever.
Despite my grim interpretation of the area, I don’t want to leave the impression that there is no hope. I met many selfless people doing amazing work to help their hometowns. People like Doctors Blanche and Lorenzo Wesley, who run the Wesley Youth Foundation in Tchula, Mississippi. The Wesleys both grew up in Tchula, left and after retiring decided to come back to their hometown to provide people with much needed help. Through the Wesley Youth Foundation, the Wesleys run a food pantry, teach people how to cook healthy foods, tutor children and more.
An hour away in Belzoni, Mississippi, Mrs. Bertha Townsend has been running a food pantry for more than 30 years. A retired teacher (even though she still ran the pantry while teaching), Ms. Bertha distributes boxes of food to local families. For some of these families, it’s the only food they’ll receive all month.
The Wesleys and Mrs. Bertha give back to their communities because they believe in the people they are serving, and the possibility for a better tomorrow. And after meeting some incredible people who are caring for their community and some incredible people who receive help, I believe in the potential of these communities as well. There is no potential however, if we do not support them as they work their way out of poverty.
We need to get more food to more people in need in the Mississippi Delta and address their other basic needs that contribute to food insecurity and poverty as well, such as housing, health and unemployment. Let’s make good on the promises we made after Katrina. Let’s fight against poverty, and continue to make sure everyone in our nation has access to healthy food and a chance at a brighter future.