By ANGIE CARNATHAN
The Mississippi State University’s Student Dietetic Association, a part of the Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion, is doing its part to help stock food pantries across North Mississippi this holiday season.
The group held a Sweet Potato Drop on Friday. Volunteers were on hand in the Palmeiro Center parking lot to help bag 20,000 lbs of sweet potatoes and load them onto trucks and trailers. The sweet potatoes were donated from farmers across the state and the Sweet Potato Council. Workers from several campus organizations, such as Food Science, the College of Agriculture and Life Science Ambassadors, Collegiate 4-H, Service DAWGS and various sororities and fraternities, gave of their time to help with the effort.
SDA Community Service Chair Jillian McNeese said the project was started in 2007.
“Potatoes are a really important part of someone’s diet,” McNeese said. “I think it’s great that we can make fresh produce available to food pantries that may not receive them regularly.”
Juan Silva, the interim department head of food science, nutrition and health promotion, said the project is intended to support churches and organizations who take care of those less fortunate in our area.
“I think it’s important that we take care of people in our area who depend on food pantries and churches to help feed their families,” Silva said. “Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin B and keratin and also very rich in fiber. They are a staple to any diet. They provide some carbohydrates for calories but also very nutritious.”
Arthur Lewis Jr. was collecting potatoes to take back to St. James United Methodist Church in Amory.
“There are so many people who need our help, and this is such a huge blessing for them,” Lewis said. “People love getting fresh produce. The first time I took an 18 wheeler of potatoes back to my church, I thought it would take a week or so to give them out, but that truck was empty after one day.”
Chiquita Briley, assistant professor in the department of food science, nutrition and health promotion, has helped organize the project from the beginning.
“One thing we always talk about is how important it is to have a mixture of food in a healthy diet, and being able to provide fresh food to these pantries is so important,” Briley said. “This is an opportunity for us to give them something nutrient-dense that they can provide to their families.”
Briley said the potatoes will be divided up between 12-13 food pantries and churches across North Mississippi. Although the group puts on other food drives throughout the year, but the Sweet Potato Drop is their biggest event.
“Right now Mississippi is third in the nation for people who deal with a questionable food supply in their home,” Briley said. “Even though the economy seems to be getting better, we are actually seeing more and more people who are relying on food pantries. This is due to the fact that although they may have a job, they are usually low wage jobs, so even though people are working, it is still very difficult for them to stretch that low income and be able to put food on the table for their families.”
Briley said children are usually the most vulnerable to food insecurity.
“We’re seeing a lot more children coming in with their parents, we’re seeing a lot of children in Mississippi go hungry,” Briley said. “Having enough to eat should not be a luxury.”