This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has sent the number of hungry Americans skyrocketing. The rate of food insecurity is expected to rise at least 12.5 percent from 2018, while the number of food insecure people might rise by a minimum of 40.5 million, according to statistic from Feeding America, which is working across the country to address the need.
Mamie Cain is a Feeding America volunteer, working in Fayette, Mississippi. She started the Pine Grove Baptist Church Helping Hands, a group that aids the community and partners with the Mississippi Food Network, the local Feeding America food bank. Cain, who is a prison case manager, has been working tirelessly through the epidemic, taking time off only to grieve a personal COVID loss. She spoke to ELLE.com about what the need looks like up close, taking shame out of the equation, and working through the uncertainty of the pandemic.
We've been involved in helping the community and involved with the Feeding America program since, I believe, 2004. My husband, who is deceased now, and I learned about it through the Veterans programs that were doing food programs at that time. We got interested, and worked with our board in order to do it for our church.
It's been good ever since that time. We've been working together, raising funds and helping the community—it's just something that we like doing. We have this slogan, "It's in our hearts." We have great support with the Mississippi Food Network, the Feeding America food bank. We've been working with them for a long time, they provide us with professional and courteous service.
We all go through things in one time or the other. During this COVID period, we all need a little bit more of a helping hand because so many people are losing their jobs. We do have a few more calls, and a few more people just show up. We assist them during this time without question. We don't need to be questioning peoples' needs—we try to assist as much as we can, when we can. We continue to raise funds on our own to add to whatever we acquire from the food bank. And we've tried, on our own, to raise funds to get more. We do well, and our community works with us, which enables us to move forward.
We try to stay open periodically during the day, a couple of hours. We have great assistants, a great volunteer group of people that help us out and keep the food bank open on specific hours and days. My phone number is available. If people contact us, we will go open it at any time. Most available times are from eight to five. If it's after five o'clock, they know they can call me. Sometimes the staff will even deliver foods.
We have first-time people come in, we introduce to them what we're about, and then we introduce the process on how we handle the food, and the application process if they want to continue. Most of them do come back and complete the application process. Sometimes they refer others to come to us for assistance, and the process continues. We talk to our people, and we work with our people in a good way, I feel. Conversation is always good, it puts people's minds at ease.
Our busiest period was April through June. We started to slow down a little bit in July. I think we are stable right now. In August we’d serve over 200 in a week. When we get extra food, we can serve over 300 to 400 a week and also help our neighboring pantries.
During the high point, we all were very, very concerned, and we had to live by the Food Network (COVID-19) rules of social distance and wearing masks. Because we had to be protective of our families and protective of their families. We all were very concerned, it was iffy. We just followed those guidelines and everything went well. Although myself, our volunteers and my staff, we all had deaths in our families because of COVID, we continued to serve.
We still continue to serve the community. We had to slow down a little bit for a while there when we did have the deaths in our family—we had problems, too. But we made sure that our people were taken care of, made sure that at the end of the day we had enough or could refer them to other pantries.
During this process, people talk about the loss of their jobs or problems, having enough to pay their bills. They encourage us because they'll tell us many times that the food that they get from us helps a long ways. We are all appreciative—when people say things like that it motivates you to continue to serve. My family and volunteers that assist, they do not waver. Even though we all are scared of this COVID, they do not waver. We all continue to work with the Network to assist the public.
What I’ve found is that it's a good feeling to help. When a family comes to a food bank it's a necessity. If we have it, they have it, too. We are in this together, and we will work together to help each other.
As told to Adrienne Gaffney.
In partnership with Feeding America, ELLE and Hearst Magazines are committed to putting an end to hunger. To help food banks feed families in need, please donate at feedingamerica.org.
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