Local food sources provide for families

Published 7:00 am Saturday, July 30, 2016

for blaze: Local mother Alexis Watz is grateful for the services WIC provides for her son Blaze.  Photo by Cassandra Favre

for blaze: Local mother Alexis Watz is grateful for the services WIC provides for her son Blaze.
Photo by Cassandra Favre

Many people in Pearl River County rely on government regulated food supplemental programs to help provide meals for their families. Programs such as WIC and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program help families dealing with food insecurity. However, there are times when there is a gap between benefits or a paycheck. During this period, many people can visit a local food pantry to supplement their food supply.

Women, Infants and Children

For women with an income at or below 185 percent of the poverty level, there’s WIC, a supplemental nutrition program for women and their infants and children up to age 5, Lela Carter, WIC Program Director for the Mississippi State Department of Health said.
The program is available for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or 6 months postpartum. It is also available to infants from birth to 11 months and children 1 to 4-years-old, Carter said.
There are 20,000 women, 25,000 infants and 37,000 children served statewide, 1,500 of those WIC participants reside in Pearl River County, she said.
In order to apply for the program, applicants must be screened at a health department or non-profit clinic that provides WIC services. They are also required to provide proof of identification, Mississippi residency and income, Carter said. The process also includes height and weight measurements, blood work, a nutrition assessment and nutrition education.
Carter said there are 96 WIC food centers statewide and every county has at least one. The Pearl River County WIC office is located at 7063 Highway 11 in Carriere.
There are many food items distributed at WIC centers including formula for infants from birth to age 1. Infants from 6 to 12 months receive formula, infant cereal and fresh fruits and vegetables. Children and women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or postpartum receive milk, cheese, eggs, cereal, juice, bread, peanut butter, fresh fruits and vegetables. The quantity varies from client to client, Carter said. Participants can pick up food every 30 days.
The certification period for an infant, child or breastfeeding mother is one year, Carter said. An annual recertification is required for infants and children up to their 5th birthday. Pregnant women can qualify for benefits for the duration of their pregnancy and up to six weeks postpartum.
During the past five years, Carter said there has been a decline in program participation nationwide, the largest being among children.
“Some of the potential causes of the decrease in participation may be increases in SNAP benefits, limited food choices and hours at WIC food centers,” Carter said. “Mississippi will be meeting a federal mandate to transition to use of retail vendors and issuing benefits via Electronic Benefits Transfer by no later than September 31, 2020.”
One local mother, Alexis Watz, said the WIC program gave her the “utmost piece of mind” when she became pregnant with her son Blaze in March of 2015. Watz, who worked as a custodian at the time, was 20 and said her income wouldn’t cover the things she needed for the baby.
She found out about the program from officials at the local health department and word of mouth.
Since she was unable to breastfeed, Watz said WIC alleviated her concerns since she knew she didn’t have to spend $200 on formula for her son.
“WIC helped us get the things we needed for our child without putting us in the hole,” she said.
Watz received benefits when she became pregnant and until Blaze was 6 months old. Blaze is now 8 months old and received seven cans of formula and 32 jars of baby food each month.
In between distributions, Watz and Blaze’s father Joseph Baker, purchase food for their son. Watz is now a caregiver for an elderly person and Baker is employed full-time at Dollar General. WIC is the only supplemental food program the family participates in.
Watz said her experience at the local WIC distribution center has been positive.
“They are really sweet and have always helped my family members who are added to the pick up roster,” Watz said. “They are kind and don’t judge. They do a good job of keeping the vibe good and I love going there every month.”

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An Active Caseload

The current active caseload for those receiving SNAP benefits in Pearl River County is 3,855 households, County Director for the Department of Human Services Marvin Houston said.
Although the average household in the county includes about three people, some households have up to nine, he added. Eligibility for SNAP benefits, which are downloaded to an EBT card, is based on income, Houston said.
“Once we have that information, then we can determine what you’re eligible for,” Houston said. “The amount is also based on household size and expenses. In a household with three to four people and no income, SNAP benefits can range anywhere from $511 to $649 per month.”
Prior to receiving their EBT card, applicants must fill out an application, which takes no more than 28 days to process, Houston said. In an emergency situation, the process can be expedited and benefits may be authorized in about five days, Houston added.
During the waiting period, many applicants may require another source of supplemental food income and Houston said he refers clients to one of the area’s food pantries.

Christian Care Ministries

Christian Care Ministries is a volunteer-run food pantry. Although they strive to service the entire county, they focus on the southern end of Pearl River County, Christian Care Ministries manager Janet Teague said.
“Food banks should be supplemental to food stamps and food budget, not a sole source,” she said.
To qualify for benefits, clients must provide a picture ID, proof of residency, information regarding sources of income and expenses and the total number of people residing in the household, she said.
Christian Care also shares information with two other food pantries in an attempt to prevent clients from utilizing more than one food pantry at a time.
“Recipients can procure food once every 30 days,” Teague said. “If they are very thrifty, their supply could last about two weeks to get them over the hump until they get their food stamps or paycheck.”
Since January, Christian Care Ministries has served 1,331 households. They are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon and the office is located at 321 Williams Ave. Contact volunteers at 601-799-3593.

Brother’s Keeper Ministries

Brother’s Keeper Ministries is a non-profit, all-volunteer food pantry located in Poplarville, provides food to those in need throughout the entire county, president and volunteer Wayne Willoughby said.
Their application process is similar to Christian Care’s and clients can pick up a food basket from Brother’s Keepers every 31 days, he said.
“People are not supposed to go to but one food pantry per month,” Willoughby explained.
Willoughby said they serve, on average, 450 households per month. Brother’s Keeper is located at 208 N. Main St. and is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. and from 9 a.m. to noon on Friday. Contact volunteers at 601-795-3173.
“When I first started volunteering eight years ago, we served about 30 to 40 households per month,” Willoughby said. “At one time it was 500. One of the main reasons people need help is because they don’t have a job.”

St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry

St. Vincent de Paul serves clientele from McNeill to Nicholson, president Mary Ficken said.
In order to qualify for benefits, clients fill out an application and bring the same identification materials, as the other food pantries require. Clients at St. Vincent can receive food every three months and are allowed to use other pantries in between, Ficken said. Based on availability, volunteers also distribute toiletries, she said.
St. Vincent is located at 1000 Goodyear Blvd. and is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Contact volunteers at 601-798-1328.

Crossroads Food Pantry

Poplarville is home to another supplemental food source, Crossroads Food Pantry. The non-profit serves clients in the Pearl River, Ford’s Creek, White Sand and Henleyfield areas.
“The only criterion for clients is that they reside in the service area,” Crossroads volunteer RC Ireland said. “If you need food and live in the area, then you’re good to go.”
Clients must fill out an application, which is kept on file, Ireland said. Volunteers also communicate with other local pantries to ensure clients aren’t visiting more than one pantry at the same time.
For the past 16 months, Crossroads has served an average of 387 people per month, Ireland said. More than 50 percent are children and seniors, he added.
Crossroads distributes food every other Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., Ireland said. Service dates are listed on the sign outside the building. Crossroads Food Pantry is located at 176 Old Crossroads West. Contact volunteers by phone at 601-799-3045.