GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - It’s been a challenging year for everybody, including for organizations that help others in need. Feeding the Gulf Coast provides food to 24 counties in three states, including eight in South Mississippi.
The demand for help was felt immediately.
“It was unbelievable,” said Michael Ledger, President/CEO of Feeding the Gulf Coast. “We saw the need explode as businesses were forced to close down or reduce their hours, people that had otherwise not known food insecurity found themselves in a position where they were food insecure, and people who had grappled with it from time to time found themselves in an even worse position.”
With the help of 400 partner agencies, they have met the challenges of the pandemic. Normally, when a hurricane or other regional disaster hits, Feeding the Gulf Coast food bank can rely on help from other members of the Feeding America Network. However, not this time.
“This situation was completely unique in that every food bank, in every state and every one was facing the same situation,” Ledger said.
Feeding the Gulf Coast ended up serving more than 33 million meals to tens of thousands of people last year, which was a 33% increase over the previous year.
The busy hurricane season joined the pandemic in creating demand, but the food bank and their partner agencies were up to the unique challenges of 2020.
“When the pandemic hit, we knew that we had to figure out how to get food out through them to the people in need, but we wanted to make sure we kept everyone safe,” Ledger said. “The recipient of the food, our partner agencies and of course our staff.”
The agency feels good about how they have met the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, and appreciate the help they have had along the way.
“We learned a lot about ourselves and what we’re capable of and what this team is willing to do to get the job done, but more than that what this community will do to support itself to lean in and help those in need. Really inspiring,” said Ledger.
And organizers are expecting that demand to continue, comparing recovery from the pandemic to recovery from a major hurricane.
“And it takes years sometimes for people to recover from that and I think this pandemic is going to be an even bigger version of that,” Ledger said. “It’s going to take some people years to get their situation right again. And we’re going to have to be there, and will be there to help them along the way.”
Feeding the Gulf Coast will host two mobile food pantries on Saturday, March 20. The first will open up at 10 a.m. at Abundant Life Evangelistic Church at 172 Rodenberg Avenue in Biloxi.
The second will begin handing out food at 1 p.m. at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church at 23146 Highway 49 in Saucier.
Upcoming mobile pantries include Wednesday, March 24 at First United Methodist Church Long Beach. Individuals need to call 228-863-9619 to reserve their box. On Saturday, March 27, they will be at Asbury Chapel in Pascagoula at 109 Convent Avenue.
For questions about the giveaway, please call Feeding the Gulf Coast at 1-888-704-FOOD.