Hattiesburg police/fire to hold food drive for Edwards Street

By HASKEL BURNS,

With its food pantry serving more than 1,500 households each month, Edwards Street Fellowship Center puts to good use community donations of foodstuffs throughout the entire year.

With the holiday season quickly arriving – when those donations become even more important – officials from Hattiesburg Police Department and Hattiesburg Fire Department will host a food drive for Edwards Street from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 8 at both Hattiesburg Walmart locations. During that time, individuals are encouraged to drop off any non-perishable items, such as canned food, rice, pasta and cereals, for the pantry.

“A main portion of (Edwards Street’s) service area comes from Forrest County, but that not only affects Forrest County – you’re looking at Covington County, Lamar County, Jones County, and I think they also include Jeff Davis and Wayne counties,” said Ryan Moore, public information officer at HPD. “So it gives us the ability to not only help the people of Hattiesburg and Forrest County that may be in need, but to also extend that reach a little bit more.

“So it’s just normal things that people might pick up when they go to the grocery store. Maybe with this, they’ll snag a few extra, and on their way out maybe drop a few off.”

Members of the police and fire departments will be stationed outside the main doors at each Walmart to accept the donations.

“We’ll have a police car, we’ll have a fire truck out there, and one of their command units,” Moore said. “We’ll have guys and girls from the department out shaking hands, and we’ll have a couple of signs.

“It’s a collaborative effort, and there are a lot of folks here who are interested in that. During the holiday times, the police department’s benevolent fund does a lot of things in the community, and this is just one more thing we can do that had never been done before.”

Ann McCullen, executive director of Edwards Street Fellowship Center, said the drive will be especially helpful because the center is coming off a particularly busy summer season and is having a little trouble replenishing the shelves.

“Especially heading into the holiday season, we want to make sure that everybody has exactly what they need,” she said. “And the number of families and individuals that we are serving has continued to go up just tremendously over the last few years – since 2015, the number of households that we serve every month has gone up 33 percent.”

McCullen attributes that to a combination of several factors, including the January 2017 tornado that struck east Hattiesburg and Petal. Immediately after the storm, the center experienced a surge in clients, many of whom have stayed on with the center ever since.

In addition, McCullen believes many of the center’s clients, although employed, are not able to work enough hours – or earning a decent enough wage – to make all the ends meet.

“So we are kind of helping to fill in that gap, to help them make it to the end of the month,” she said. “So this (food drive) is huge, and the Hattiesburg Police Department and Hattiesburg Fire Department are two groups that are so respected in the community, and are viewed as helpers.

“So I think people are going to want to reach out – they’re going to say, ‘These guys believe in what’s going on, and want to make a difference in the community, and we want to get behind that.’ And Hattiesburg is such a generous place anyway, year-round, but it’s very exciting to see these two organizations coming together to help families have a brighter holiday season.”