February

Beneta Burt, president and CEO of the Mississippi Urban League, and UMMC project administrator Darryl Jefferson unload canned goods for shelving at the EversCare Pantry.
Beneta Burt, president and CEO of the Mississippi Urban League, and UMMC project administrator Darryl Jefferson unload canned goods for shelving at the EversCare Pantry.
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EversCare food pantry partnership helps feed patients in need

Published on Thursday, February 7, 2019

Media Contact: Ruth Cummins, ricummins@umc.edu

Every morning, most of Mississippi wakes up hungry.

Some people begin their day by eating breakfast. Others don’t, but it might not be by choice.

“For the eighth year in a row, Mississippi is the hungriest state in the country,” said Dr. Bettina Beech, professor of population health science, pediatrics and family medicine and dean of the John D. Bower School of Population Health at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

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Beech

“I believe we can do better.”

Twenty-two percent of Mississippians live with food insecurity. It means they lack reliable and consistent access to affordable and nutritious food, and they might wonder where the next meal is coming from. It’s a pervasive problem, but three institutions are coming together to provide an opportunity to combat hunger and at the same time promote wellness.

EversCare, a social program of UMMC’s Myrlie Evers-Williams Institute for the Elimination of Health Disparities, will open a food pantry on Feb. 26 in partnership with the Mississippi Urban League and the Mississippi Food Network, the state’s sole food bank. UMMC patients referred by their medical team can visit the EversCare Pantry to receive non-perishable, healthy foods.

“We are not trying to be their food source,” Beech said. “It’s an emergency stopgap.”

For the poor and those who live in the state’s rural corners, hunger and scant access to healthy food “can be a matter of life and death,” Beech said.

“The No. 1 reason for readmission of our senior citizens to the hospital is that they don’t have enough food at home,” said Beech, the Institute’s executive director. “Food is nature’s medicine, and it’s hard to heal when you are hungry.”

The EversCare Pantry is housed at the Mississippi Urban League, formerly Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity, 2548 Livingston Road in Jackson. Organizers gave tours Tuesday following a program to mark the pantry's creation. The building is on the north side of the Jackson Medical Mall campus, which houses the Evers-Williams Institute along with dozens of other UMMC clinical operations.

Beneta Burt behind podium speaking at grand opening.
Burt speaks at the EversCare Pantry grand opening.

Although many community food drives tend to happen at Christmas or Thanksgiving, “hunger is not a holiday event,” said Beneta Burt, president and chief executive officer of the Mississippi Urban League. “As a community organization, our responsibility is to make sure people who are food insecure are not food insecure.”

Those visiting the pantry will receive a blue reusable canvas shopping tote containing a four- to seven-day allotment of non-perishable goods. It could include staples such as peanut butter, cereal, canned fruits and vegetables, oatmeal and pasta, said Darryl Jefferson, project administrator at the Institute. The Mississippi Urban League provides volunteers during the regular workweek in the event community members need emergency assistance beyond food pantry hours.

Cans of food stacked on shelf.
Non-perishable goods line shelves at the EversCare Pantry.

Assisting in distribution will be community volunteers and UMMC students who will receive a “real-world experience” allowing them a glimpse into social disparities that can lead to hunger, Jefferson said.

“Volunteering is a learning opportunity in and of itself,” Beech said. “It lets you see what food insecurity looks like. Having a learning community within the food pantry is definitely something for the future.”

EversCare helps meet the social needs of UMMC patients who struggle with food insecurity, housing and transportation, health literacy, personal safety and education, said Vikki Gholar, clinical director of EversCare. Staff there connect patients with the community resources that can improve their quality of life and enhance health outcomes.

“We receive patients from anywhere on campus – both from our outpatient clinics and from our hospitals,” Gholar said.

EversCare also collects data and information that will help identify and address issues to improve health outcomes over time. The goal: Better understand patients’ lives in order to better serve their health and social needs and the needs of the community.

Jackson businessman and restaurateur Jeff Good gives his time to food justice and food access organizations including Up in Farms and Refill Café. “We’re all in the same fraternity, and we celebrate each other’s successes,” Good said as he toured the pantry. “This is a fantastic, momentous morning for UMMC, the Mississippi Food Network and the Mississippi Urban League.”

The pantry will accept donations from outside groups and welcomes food drives to help stock its shelves. Those interested in donating can call EversCare at 601-815-3535.

Felicia Lyles behind podium speaking at grand opening.
Felicia Lyles, president of the Mississippi Food Network board of directors, speaks at the EversCare Pantry grand opening.

“So much work is being done by the Mississippi Food Network,” said Felicia Lyles, chairman of the nonprofit’s board of directors. “We can’t distribute the food without our partners.”

“We encourage students to participate in food drives for MFN, because it will benefit us,” Beech said. To host or take part in a food drive, contact Stacey Cain at 601-815-3535 or scain@msfoodnet.org.

“And, it doesn’t matter what food pantry it goes to,” Beech said. “It’s all of Mississippi that we’re concerned about.”