Students put faith into practice


By Woody Woodrick

Advocate Editor

OXFORD — Thousands of hungry Mississippians will have something to eat thanks to the efforts of about 150 college students.

Students attending the annual statewide Wesley Foundation retreat Jan. 27-29 at Camp Lake Stephens also took part in a food drop. The students transferred canned soup from an 18-wheeler to vehicles from area food pantries to be distributed to the hungry.

“I think students are so eager to do something,” said Hugh Griffith, Wesley Foundation leader at Mississippi State University who helped set-up the food drop. “This is such a direct way to meet a need.

“This makes a huge difference in the lives of people. It’s a good way for students to see a practical solution to everyday needs.”

Griffith worked with Bob Fritchey, the new regional director for the Society of St. Andrew (SoSA) in Mississippi. It was the first such event for Fritchey since he arrived in Mississippi in December.

Griffith said activities such as food drops and potato drops, both SoSA programs that fight hunger, are ideal for college students. “Sometimes college students don’t have a lot of time,” he said.

Indeed, Saturday’s effort took about an hour. The 140 students and their sponsors from 11 campuses arrived at the Oxford Conference Center a little after 9 a.m. on Saturday and quickly began moving boxes of milk-based soup from the transport truck to smaller trucks and cars driven by food pantry representatives. Despite a chilly breeze, the students showed enthusiasm for the event, singing as they passed the boxes along several “bucket brigades.” They sang popular songs, praise songs, hymns and even a Christmas song.

“It was fun and I liked the cause,” said Charlane Daniel of Gautier, a Mississippi University for Women freshman. “I never would have thought about doing something like this. This is something you can do in two or three hours. You get a large group of people and it goes really fast.”

Fritchey said he hopes the students’ enthusiasm will carry over so they will participate in other SoSA events on their campuses or in their hometowns.

“What we’ve found is that a lot of times people who get involved during college are searching,” Fritchey said. “Their hearts, minds and feet are in the right direction. They don’t get excited about SoSA. They get excited about doing something.”

The soup distributed to the Oxford Food Pantry and True World Gospel Food Pantry of Amory was part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nonfat Dry Milk Product Exchange program which is sending more than 1,300 tons of shelf-stable food products to 15 states and the District of Columbia. Mississippi is scheduled to receive 162,540 pounds of milk-based soup and 41,184 pounds of shelf-stable milk.

The USDA has issued to participating faith-based and community organizations, including the Society of St. Andrew, vouchers for surplus government stocks of nonfat dry milk. The vouchers are exchanged with manufacturers for shelf-stable food products: ready-to-eat milk-based soups, ready-to-eat pudding, nutritional bars and ultra-high temperature shelf-stable milk. The manufacturers will redeem the vouchers with the USDA for nonfat dry milk used in producing their food products.

The Society of St. Andrew has been issued vouchers for 1.86 million pounds of nonfat dry milk. The exchange with food manufacturers will result in 2.64 million pounds of shelf-stable food shipped to soup kitchens, food pantries, and other feeding agencies in states where the Society of St. Andrew has local people to oversee distribution.

“It’s a win-win situation,” said Mike Waldmann, the Society of St. Andrew’s director of operations.

 “Everyone benefits and ultimately hungry Americans will be fed. Excess nonfat dry milk that might have gone to waste is given to manufacturers who make shelf-stable food products. The manufacturers donate an equal or larger quantity of prepared food to nonprofit hunger-relief organizations,” he explained. “The hunger-relief groups donate the food to hungry Americans. And the added beauty for the hunger organizations is that they don’t have to cover the high cost of shipping. The manufacturers are providing delivery of the loads of food to distribution sites pre-arranged by the nonprofits.”

Since mid-December, SoSA has been working to obtain 68 tractor-trailer loads of the shelf-stable food, making delivery arrangements for each estimated 39,000-pound load. Forty-nine truck-loads of ready-to-eat soup, 12 loads of vitamin-fortified milk, four loads of ready-to-eat pudding and three loads of nutritional bars will be delivered through March.