It’s hunger and homelessness awareness week, and today we’re going to talk about food insecurity and Back Bay Mission’s client-choice food pantry.

Here are the bare facts. According to Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, 795 million people worldwide do not have enough to eat and 42 million Americans are at risk of hunger. According to Feeding America, that includes more than 643,000 food insecure people in Mississippi. That’s more than 7,000 in Hancock County, more than 22,000 in Jackson County, and more than 36,000 in Harrison County. Many of them are children.

At Back Bay Mission, we serve this vulnerable population through the only client-choice food pantry in our area. Each family can come to the pantry once a month. Those families walk through our pantry with a volunteer and select the food that they want. This makes sure that the family is getting food that meets their dietary and medical needs, as well as their personal preferences. And that keeps food waste low and satisfaction high.

It would be easy to think that the same people keep coming to our food pantry time and time again. It would be a terrible thing if our food pantry was reducing the people who use it to dependency. Fortunately, we record every instance of food pantry use. We went through the records from 2015 and 2016 and here’s what we found: of the more than 1400 people who used the food pantry in each of those years, almost half of them visited us exactly once; almost 90% of them visited the food pantry no more than five times.

Obviously, it’s going to take a lot more than a food pantry to end food insecurity on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We need to overcome economic insecurities, chronic poverty, and food deserts, among other things. But the food pantry — along related programs like nutrition classes and God’s Green Acre Community Garden — is an important tool and a vital helping hand for people who are experiencing food insecurity.

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