Last year, the Food Bank spent National Hunger Awareness Day serving ice cream to its member agencies, volunteers, and community leaders. This year, organizers wanted to try something a little bit different: an interfaith service at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church.
"We have just about every faith or denomination that you can think of [here], and everyone's been so kind," said Alisha Tillery, the Food Bank's communication manager. "This is an event that we've always wanted to do. On top of that, a lot of our agencies are ministries or faith-based organizations."
About 126,000 adults and 51,000 children in Tennessee live with pervasive hunger, including more than 16 percent of the people in Shelby County. The Food Bank coordinates food collection and distribution for its volunteer agencies, providing about 20,000 people in 32 counties around the Mid-South with food each week. Eighty-three percent of food pantries, 66 percent of soup kitchens, and 41 percent of shelters in the Mid-South are run by faith-based agencies.
The church service, which featured community faith leaders as speakers, was also a forum for the results of the Food Bank's new four-year study on hunger in the Mid-South. According to the findings, about 74,000 individuals a year receive food through one of the Food Bank's member agencies, and 12,400 people each week depend on the organization for their next meal. About 32 percent of the households served include children, and about 70 percent are African American.
"Hopefully, after they get the survey results and get some information, people will be encouraged to help, whether it's volunteering or donating money or having their own food drive," said Tillery. "This is to let people know that we do more than give out food. There's a real purpose and a real cause behind it."
When items are donated to the Food Bank, the organization's workers inspect it, sort it into two warehouses, and deliver it to member agencies.
"While it's a wonderful thing that at Thanksgiving and Christmas we're bombarded with food donations, hunger is an everyday thing," said Tillery. "Hunger is not a cause but a symptom of a lot of things, such as homelessness or job loss or illness. You never know when those things will come your way. We want to keep our agencies supplied."