Local organization works to end hunger

Raven Tynes and Robert St. John Courtesy photo
Raven Tynes and Robert St. John
Courtesy photo

A nonprofit organization is feeding the hungry around the state of Miss., and it all started in Hattiesburg.

Robert St. John, a Hattiesburg restaurateur, chef and author with 30 years of restaurant experience, first became involved with Edwards Street Fellowship Center in 2009, which helped find food for clients. Edwards Street Fellowship Center is a “mission pantry” that helps feed 800 families each month in the Hattiesburg community.

St. John called his Sysco representative and searched through the many items that Sysco offers to put together a food package for Edwards Street. While searching, he wondered if pantries or centers similar to Edwards Street were having the same problems finding food.

“I began to see the face of hunger in my state,” St. John said. “I learned that there are seniors living on Social Security checks and fixed incomes who are, at this very moment, trying to decide between paying the electricity bill or going to the grocery store to purchase food.”

“I met single, working mothers who were holding down two jobs trying to keep their children fed. Worst of all, I met children who were eating a school breakfast, a school lunch and not eating again until the next day,” he said.

After doing some research, St. John found that Miss. is one of the main states with a hunger problem. This led him to ask Sysco’s executive team how they could help feed those in need. He then started Extra Table.

“It was not until I was in college that I truly understood how big of a problem hunger is,” said Amelia Landers, Extra Table intern and senior interdisciplinary studies major.

USM students Elizabeth Butler, Ali Edwards and Samantha Walker also volunteer weekly with Extra Table.

“I had trouble reconciling that Mississippi was the fattest state in the nation and also the most food insecure,” St. John said. “How could that be? On my tour I learned that the two, hunger and obesity, almost always go hand in hand. If one doesn’t have enough money to purchase proper foods at a grocery store, he or she will go to the nearest convenience store and eat junk.”

Extra Table’s food packages include healthy foods that have  long shelf-lives. The organization now ships food packages by the ton to 15 food pantries and soup kitchens all over Miss.

Extra Table has two approaching community events: A Day at the Park on Sept. 21 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. with Southern Pines Animal Shelter, and the 5K Hattiesburg Hunger Run hosted by Southern Prohibition Brewery and Thirsty Hippo in Downtown Hattiesburg on Nov. 9.

Anyone can donate to Extra Table and join the fight against hunger by visiting www.extratable.org or by attending one of the upcoming events.