Extra Table launches #NowMoreThanEver fundraiser to help with food stocks during coronavirus pandemic

By HASKEL BURNS,

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Extra Table in Hattiesburg is kicking off a new campaign aimed at helping the organization increase the amount of healthy food it sends to food pantries throughout Mississippi in order to better serve its clients in this time of need.

On Friday, officials from Extra Table – which annually ships more than 134 tons of nutritious food its partners around the state – announced the launch of #NowMoreThanEver, which calls for an increase in effort and financial support to ensure that feeding efforts remain strong throughout the duration of the pandemic. Individuals can participate in the initiative – which encourages residents to stay home, stay safe and donate to Extra Table – online at https://bit.ly/2wg5QHW or www.extratable.org.

“Your dollars right now mean more than ever,” said Martha Allen, executive director of Extra Table. “Now more than ever, there is a fear that we will run out of food; now more than ever, there is a need for healthy food as some Meals on Wheels programs (for seniors) have stalled and some elderly care clinics have stalled.

“Children are out of school, so they’re missing those two meals a day – our future leaders are going to bed hungry tonight. Extra Table, along with your help, can make a difference now more than ever.”

The #NowMoreThanEver fundraiser has the following capabilities for funding: $10 provides a warm weekend breakfast for 30 kids, $20 provides a case of peanut butter, $50 provides a variety of vegetables, $200 provides protein for seniors and $500 provides 1,000 meals for needy individuals. Extra Table will match the first $20,000 donated, with continued matching efforts and partners expected in the near future.

“One hundred percent of those funds will go to putting healthy food in the hands of hungry Mississippians during this COVID-19 crisis,” Allen said.

Extra Table’s food delivery schedule will become more flexible in the coming months, as officials work to adjust to meet needs, with a focus on children and the elderly. The organization also has reached out to school districts to identify and help with resources to help feed students through district feeding programs.

“We are working very closely with our food pantry partners throughout the state, responding to their needs, making sure that we’re sending the foods that they are not receiving and don’t have on hand,” Allen said. “We are working closely with restaurant partners and the hospitality industry in order to make sure that nothing left in their kitchens spoils.

“We’re being very careful with social distancing and wearing things to protect us. We are just listening to our partners and trying to fundraise as much as possible.”

Extra Table was founded in 2009 by Hattiesburg restaurateur Robert St. John, when St. John partnered with distributor Sysco to help supply food to Edwards Street Fellowship Center in Hattiesburg. Today, Extra Table works with 42 feeding agencies and one food hub to provide food for those in need. Of the approximately 500 food pantries in Mississippi, Extra Table partners with about 100. The organization provided 563,534 healthy meals and raised approximately $447,605 for food purchases in 2019.

“At Extra Table, we fundraise in order to purchase new and healthy food,” Allen said. “So while we’re doing some gleaning and kitchen cleaning, the important thing, and what we focus on, are the dollars.

“Donated dollars are what feed people, so we fundraise in order to purchase new and healthy food that we distribute monthly through our food distribution partner to our feeding agencies. We focus on the shelf-stable, healthy foods, so typically an order from us a month is shelf-stable canned items, a lot of low-sodium soups, low-sodium vegetables, whole-grain products like rice and pastas.”

According to numbers from Extra Table, every day more than 200,000 children throughout Mississippi leave school knowing they will have nothing to eat until the next school day. In addition, 56 percent of Mississippians aged 65 and older are food insecure.

St. John said although people typically donate generously around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, food is needed year-round. That’s especially true now, with people out of work because of the threat posed by the coronavirus.

“Mississippians are just as hungry in June and July and in March, especially when there’s a global pandemic,” St. John said. “And what we have right now are thousands and thousands and thousands of Mississippians who are out of work, who didn’t get a paycheck today, are not going to get one tomorrow.

“They are unsure about their future and they need to feed their families. You’ve got single moms that are at home right now trying to figure out how they’re going to feed the kids, and you’ve got seniors who are living on a fixed income in a scary world, and they can’t get out and they need food. That’s why it’s more important than it ever will be, right now – if you’ve ever considered giving to a food charity, the most efficient and best way to do it is through Extra Table.”

The #NowMoreThanEver initiative is especially important considering that many events that raise funds for Extra Table have been canceled to limit the spread of the virus.

“Right now, there are no events,” St. John said. “The government says no events, even if we wanted to do an event. So now more than ever, it’s important that we do it this way.”