"Stamp Out Hunger" in your community Saturday

PINE BELT (WDAM) - With school almost out for the summer, parents may start feeling the pressure to provide more meals at home.

"There are a lot of people who spend the majority of their time trying to survive," said Ann McCullen, Executive Director at the Edward's Street Fellowship Center.

Many children in the Pine Belt rely on free or reduced breakfast and lunch during the school year, which means many families often turn to local pantries for more support during the summer. McCullen said they see an increase in need, with a decrease in donations.

"In just seven hours last Thursday, we gave out 371 bags of groceries,  that's a lot of food," said McCullen.  "There's over ten pounds, fifteen pounds per bag."

Free breakfast and lunch is offered to all students in the Hattiesburg Public School District. In Petal, the school district reports about 60 percent of students use the free or reduced meal service. In Lamar County, 48 percent of students are eligible.

"To get a big donation of good, quality food right at the end of the school year helps up stock our shelves for the summer, and that's what we need," said McCullen.

"We just love doing it, love getting out in the community and love giving back to the food banks," said Winfred Johnson, the local drive chairman.

Johnson connects the donations from the carriers, who donate their time on the routes picking up bags of food, to the local pantries, like Christian Services, where they are serving 700 - 800 meals a day, five days a week.

"It can make a great difference in someone's life between something to eat and not having anything to eat," said Bill Prout, CEO of Christian Services in Hattiesburg.

"It's really good for homeowners and residents to know they are making a difference, maybe for someone right down the street from them," said McCullen.

Food collection bins will also be available in the post office lobbies in downtown Hattiesburg, on 40th Avenue, and in Petal for those who receive their mail in a post office box or drawer.

Last year, the food drive helped provide close to 84,000 pounds of food to the Edwards Street Fellowship Center, Christian Services and the Petal Children's Task Force.