Thousands Need Help Feeding Families

More than 77,000 Mississippians who weren't receiving food stamps before Hurricane Katrina say they now need help feeding their families. For the first time ever the Mississippi Department of Human Services is offering one-time emergency assistance in 15 counties. On Tuesday, D.H.S. opened application sites in the three coastal counties. The staff is working to make the process as simple and convenient as possible.

Waiting is not uncommon at emergency relief sites, however, at the food stamp application center in Harrison County it wasn't for the thousands of people needing help who were doing the waiting. The wait was for the D.H.S. staff who were anxious to assist them.

Many of the 189 DHS workers at the site aren't from the food stamp division. Larry Bledsoe was pulled in from child support collection where he serves as regional director.

"Their criteria is different from what we do and in child support," he said. We don't look at income. We do not care whether a person is eligible or not to get services so, yes, it's a little different."

Officials say the emergency food stamp relief is for people who aren't already part of the program. It is a one time gift based on people's need and the size of their household.

D.H.S. director Don Taylor said "We're taking a simple two-page application and we're giving people an EBT card on the spot. We're taking applications back to one of four processing centers each of which are operating 24 hours a day. We hope to get these cards activated within five days."

Forest Beatti's Gulfport home is severely damaged. His application time was less than than 10 minutes.

"I'm sure we wouldn't starve to death,"said Beatti. "My other family would take care of us but it helps. It's a burden off my mind more than anything."

Although helping people apply for food stamps isn't his regular job, Larry Bledsoe is glad to be part of the process. "You know that you're helping people and that's very important to help someone that needs it."

So far officials say $28 million in food stamps has been divvied out to families who need it.

The sites are:

Hancock County Library

St. Martin Community Center

Harrison Central High School

Conrad's Restaurant in Gautier

Eastside Community Center in Moss Point

Applications will be taken from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. until Saturday except in Harrison County where applications will be taken until 4 p.m. on Friday.