Rundown trailers and failing wood homes house the hungry children of Mississippi’s Holmes and Leflore Counties.
“To paint a picture, it’s not pretty,” said Mary Williams, executive director of the local nonprofit Girls Club & Learning Center.
Williams has spent the past five years feeding the kids of this rural community. Many families live in deep poverty, with neighbors often five miles apart and no jobs or grocery stores in sight.
For kids, this often means empty pantries and a constant struggle to find food.
“There’s no walking distance for these children,” she explained. “We have children from the backwoods. Parents don’t have transportation. The only way the children get meals is when they’re at school. Parents rely on that.”
Williams’ program generally provides afterschool snacks at a daily homework club and free meals during a summer reading program that’s led by local teachers.
“Children have an urgent need for it. When we first started, we didn’t think children would actually be hungry,” she admitted. “I thought those days didn’t even exist anymore, but it still goes on today.”
And schools closed across the state because of the coronavirus, these children have lost that critical lifeline of school breakfast and lunch.
“Children are really struggling. They don’t understand what’s going on,” she said. "They’re isolated. They are very vulnerable at this time. We want to let them know we are here for them and make sure they’re still getting things they need until school opens back up.”
Williams and her small team of four staff and five volunteers are using a No Kid Hungry emergency grant to serve these kids breakfast and lunch at nine grab-n-go sites across the counties. But between social distancing, statewide stay-at-home orders and families having no transportation, Williams may have to shift her approach to one that requires even more resources.
“We have to go out into the community,” she said. “We might have to go door to door.”
Last summer, her team fed kids some 12,000 meals in eight weeks, and she expects they’ll serve even more now during the crisis. Williams had to cancel a planned golf tournament fundraiser because of the pandemic, making her even more grateful to the donors who made her No Kid Hungry emergency grant possible.
“You’re helping the children be able to eat,” she said. “They’re still getting their meals during these difficult times. You’re making sure the children don’t go hungry.”
Williams is taking that gratitude and an unflinchingly positive attitude into her daily work.
“We’re going to serve as many children as we possibly can,” she said. “It’s going to get better. You just have to continue to look forward. We as a community have to do what we can to make the transition a little easier for them, to the best of our ability.”
Still, as her team delivers food and hope to their impoverished counties, she is clear-eyed about the crisis that she and many others are facing across the country.
“Children are suffering hard,” she said. “They need us to step up.”
Help us support heroes like Williams feeding kids in communities coast to coast during this crisis and in the recovery to follow.