BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - East Howard Baptist Church in Biloxi draws quite a crowd on Friday mornings. The people come to pick up food to feed their families. Veronica Bares of Biloxi has been turning to the food pantry since she lost her home and business in Hurricane Katrina.
"It is a God send and people certainly depend on this program to have sufficient foods for their family," said Bares.
To get an accurate picture of the people who use food pantries and soup kitchens and the problems they're facing, the Bay Area Food Bank is participating in the largest hunger study in America. The Food Bank donates groceries to more than 100 churches and organizations in south Mississippi.
"The idea is we want to be able to plan better for the future to help organizations like the one that we're at today, so they can help people who come to them," said Jim Brewer, a Bay Area Food Bank Volunteer Coordinator. "When we're talking to legislators or applying for grants, this information is invaluable in those situations."
Forty churches, food pantries, and soup kitchens in south Mississippi, south Alabama, and the Florida panhandle are randomly selected for the surveys. About 400 participants are also chosen at random.
Nationwide, more than 50,000 people will be participating. One of the goals of the study is to change any misconceptions out there about the people who rely on food pantries.
"A lot of the public thinks that only bums and folks who aren't trying in their lives are the people who get free food through food pantries. That is absolutely not true. These are people of working families, often working in low wage jobs," said Brewer.
"Maybe they've been functioning on the edge and one thing goes wrong, a car breaks down or a child gets sick, and all of a sudden they can't make it," he added.
And many have recently lost their jobs in the ongoing recession, and never thought they would be lining up for free food.
"Nobody really at this point seems to be able to predict when things are going to get better, so we're preparing for a fairly long haul with more people needing help," said Brewer.
The Feeding America hunger study is done every four years. The results should be released sometime in November.