(DeSoto Co., MS) A new Gallup poll shows Mississippi tops the nation’s list in having the highest percentage of people who say they struggle to afford food.
Almost one in four people surveyed said that in the last 12 months, there was at least one time when they did not have enough money to buy the food they or their families needed.
While Mississippi tops the list, Arkansas comes in sixth and Tennessee in eighth place.
The findings are from surveys done with 177,662 adults from January through June of this year.
In DeSoto County, Connie James is not surprised at the numbers. She’s the director of Heartland Hands Impact Center, which distributes food to families below the poverty line.
They currently serve about 460 families, which is a 20 percent jump from the previous month. For six straight months, their numbers have reached new records.
“We open the door, and there’s always a line. And on the first of the month, the line will go all the way out the door,” James said. “At that point, we kind of hyperventilate. Because that's when you start wondering are we going to have enough.”
They have typically received a lot of their food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but the amount has been severely reduced, leaving James and her staff with less food to give to more families.
“Many of them break down and cry. Many of them. And we've had two that walked out the door and said if you can't help me, I will not be alive tonight,” she said.
The people coming for help may not be whom one would expect. James has seen someone with two PhDs, out of a job since relocating to take care of his ailing mother.
Over time, she’s also seen families grow in number, as people take in relatives who have lost jobs.
Many of those suffering are children.
Remembering one mother with eight children, James said, “We all cried. We all did. The children had no diapers, they had no food, and we watched as we were fixing up the children's. When they finished, she would reach over and take a bite, and I asked her when was the last meal she ate. She said three days ago.”
Each family below the poverty line is allowed to take one box of food and available supplies each month. It’s a constant struggle to restock the pantry to have enough to give.
Even those who don’t visit food pantries feel the pinch.
Earline Warren, 65, shops for deals when feeding her family of four.
“Bologna and hot dogs, because they almost always have those on sale,” Warren said.
She reflects on how much has changed in her lifetime and even the change in the last few years.
“When I used to go to the store, I used to buy neck bones. But then they got too high to buy. A package of neck bones now – might be three or four in there. But they cost $4 or $5. Well you really ain’t got enough there.”
At Heartland Hands, Connie James hopes the community will step up to donate more items. They especially need donations of toiletry items, like bath soap and toilet paper.
Anyone willing to help can call (662) 280-5365.