Mississippi communities are filled with stories of individuals taking action to address local challenges and come together in impactful ways that make a difference.
According to national surveys such as The Fraser Institute’s Generosity Index, Mississippi consistently ranks among the top states in annual giving per capita.
The Petal Children’s Task Force in the Pine Belt area of Mississippi is just one example of how that spirit of generosity can make a difference in a community. For more than 30 years, the Task Force has supported families who live within the Petal School District.
The Task Force started in 1989 when local Demaris Lee and Jessie Rowell purchased food and gifts to help a Petal family during the holidays. The organization has now morphed into providing food assistance to about 600 families every month, as well as giving out packets containing items like tuna, fruit cups, peanut butter, and crackers to people who are homeless.
The Task Force is truly a community effort, and support comes from near and far, including area churches, stores, and businesses. Volunteers are also critical to the Task Force’s efforts, from organizing food collection drives to stocking shelves in the food pantry.
“Whether it’s a $10,000 check or a few jars of peanut butter, each donation makes a difference to our community and helps a local family,” said Lee, who now serves as executive director.
The Task Force often receives pallets of fresh eggs and, thanks to ongoing donations of empty egg cartons, can distribute them by the dozen to area families. A joint effort between the Women’s Club of Gulfport and the Cosmopolitan Club of Petal has already provided over 1,100 egg cartons to the Task Force this year. The donations are coordinated by members of a special Facebook group called “Egg Carton Central MS Gulf Coast,” which solely collects egg cartons from individuals and gives them to area food pantries and backyard chicken farmers.
The Task Force walked in faith this summer and pre-ordered enough hams for holiday food distribution, getting a guaranteed discounted price. That way, they didn’t have to worry about last-minute shortages, supply chain issues, or inflation.
As a result, 350 families recently received boxes filled with food for Thanksgiving. Christmas boxes will focus more on ensuring children who typically eat at school have something to eat over the holiday break. Those packages will lean more toward nutritious snacks and breakfast items, such as oatmeal, grits, cereal, peanut butter, and jelly.
The Task Force accepts donations throughout the year via its website and Facebook page. But it holds only a single fund-raising event, a timed 5K run, and a two-mile walk. The 11th annual Lighthouse Dash will be held on Feb. 11, 2023, at the Petal Civic Center, 712 S. Main St. Participants can pre-register online, and sponsorships are available.
In 2023, the Task Force will start a campaign to raise funds to enlarge its current building to increase the available food volume and store it more efficiently.
“There’s an ever-growing need for food assistance in the Petal community, and we need to be ready to respond,” Lee said. “This expanded space will help us have adequate room for food storage and donations and hopefully help the Task Force continue to serve Petal, both today and in the future.”
All photos provided by Petal Children’s Task Force