Conference helps those who feed the hungry

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Experts say one in five people on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is having to worry about not having enough food to eat. The Bay Area Food Bank put on a conference to help its partners, including pantries, churches and soup kitchens learn what resources are available to the people they serve. The day was all about helping the helpers.

Food is a necessity of life. So when a hungry person asks for help buying groceries, the last thing any social agency wants to say is sorry, there is nothing available for you.

"It gets discouraging," said Jean Cooper of the Crossroad Distribution Center in Pearl River County. "The main clientele is our seniors in my area and a lot of those people. I do not apply for the USDA or other things because the majority of our clientele would only be a few dollars over and they would disqualify."

The conference was to update non-profit agencies on what programs their clients might qualify for. Attendees learned that when applying for Food Stamps or SNAP, senior citizens need to make full disclosure of all their prescription medication costs.

"They won't tell you. People are prideful," said Patricia Rayford of SNAP- Education Director. "Medical benefits is one of the most underutilized portions of our program. Encourage everyone. Every prescription that you take, bring it with you or make mention of it."

The Bay Area Food Bank distributes food to eight Mississippi counties through various partnerships. Officials said the soup kitchens, shelters, church and pantries are the first line of defense against hunger.

"The rate in the basic Gulf Coast area, in some areas it's as high as 20 percent of the people are at risk for hunger at any given time," said Carol Foley of the Bay Area Food Bank. "We're looking at children as being especially vulnerable and the elderly. They're especially vulnerable to hunger because in the elderly or children it creates health issues."

The conference also included seminars on food safety, child nutrition, and recruiting volunteers.

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