Cars wrapped around The Landers Center in Southaven on Wednesday morning as people waited for the chance at getting a few boxes of groceries from Sacred Heart Southern Missions’ food pantry. 

“This is the longest line I’ve seen in two years of doing this,” said Melissa Ellis, Assistant Volunteer Program Coordinator for Sacred Heart Southern Missions (SHSM). 

This monthly food pantry acts as a supplement for those who already receive food assistance from SHSM. Cars began lining up before 7 a.m., though volunteers wouldn’t start distributing the food until 10. This is because a voucher for this pantry is only good if you get to the front of the line before the food runs out — and it always does. 

“It’s worth the wait,” said Andre Johnson, who’s been using SHSM food pantries since April. “$50 in groceries might not seem like a lot to some, but for us it’s the only thing keeping us from having to skip a lot of meals.”

Over 15% of DeSoto County residents will experience food insecurity in 2020, according to projections from Feeding America, a nonprofit nationwide network of over 200 food banks. That number was just over 12% in 2018, meaning thousands more are struggling to put food on the table this year.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the need for social services of all kinds in DeSoto County. With more people than ever coming to SHSM for food assistance, they’ve partnered with the Memphis Mid-South Food Bank throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to better meet those needs.

“It’s been a blessing, an absolute godsend for us,” said Andrea L. Vincent, SHSM Director of Programs. 

Cathy Pope, president and CEO of Memphis Food Bank said that their distribution of food to DeSoto County pantries has increased 196% in 2020. The pandemic has necessitated their output balloon across the board, with an average of 5.6 million pounds of food going out each month since April. Last year the average was 1.5 million pounds. 

SHSM has been able to host 22 extra mobile food pantries since March because of the partnership with Mid-South Food Bank, each of which served between 250 and 500 families. 

SHSM also provides other forms of financial assistance, including utility and rental payments. Vincent said that even city employees have been turning people to SHSM this year when they are at risk of losing utility services because of overdue bills. 

In April, SHSM received a Paycheck Protection Loan of $1.95M, the bulk of which has gone to these payments, according to Vincent. SHSM’s social service operations provide some form of assistance to more than 3,000 families across five Mississippi counties.

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