'It's humbling': Jackson State University, partners help those in need with food giveaway

Gabriela Szymanowska
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

A long line of cars stretched down Dr. Robert Smith Sr. Parkway in front of Blackburn Middle School Saturday morning, each car steadily moving forward as the day wore on.

Jackson State University students, staff and other volunteers stood in front of an 18-wheeler with a bright, light blue trailer adorned with the Amazon logo smiling across it.

Jackson community members were ushered through the Blackburn Middle School parking lot at 1311 W. Pearl Street starting at 9 a.m. to pick up nonperishable items, cases of water, hand sanitizers and masks. For those with children, volunteers also included books as part of the giveaway. .

Heather Denne, director of community engagement at Jackson State University, said the event had 1,500 food boxes, 1,000 cases of water, 500 children's books and 500 masks to give away. 

"Typically we try and do crop drops where we give out fresh produce once or twice a year," Denne said. "But because of the pandemic this is our fifth one, and this is our largest drop to date." 

Denne said there was a line of cars waiting at 6:30 a.m. when she pulled into the lot to set up the event. 

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"If you just think about the pandemic and children learning virtually, I mean the grocery bills are going up so much because typically you're serving a snack and dinner for your kids," Denne said. "Now you're providing lunch, breakfast, snacks ... so, it really is a time when we're trying to serve the community that's in need, because we're just having to stretch our dollars a little bit more and this is one way that we can help do this."

Jackson resident Earnest Roberts, 62, stopped by the event in the late morning to pick up some supplies for those in need at the Springhill Christian Center in Raymond.

"It's always a great thing to help people," Roberts said referring to the food box giveaway. "That's what God expects of us, so that's what we have to do."

Daria Diprifio and David Lowery, along with 11-year-old Kyle Lowery, came from Clinton after Diprifio had heard about the event from a therapist who works with her daughter.

"That was nice of them to do, because with (the coronavirus) and everything else it's hard for people to afford stuff," Diprifio said.

Denne said the event wouldn't have been possible without sponsors , including TDC Premier Trucking LLC, a trucking company in the southeast region, Amazon and Hosea Helps, an advocacy group for families facing poverty.

The Society of St. Andrew — a nonprofit aimed at harvesting food, reducing food waste and helping those who are hungry — also partnered for this event.

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The event inspired volunteers, including 20-year-old Tyler Huckleberry, a junior marketing major at Jackson State University.

"For me, I experienced this when I was younger," Huckleberry said. "I experienced not having food. I experienced moments where me and my family didn't have stable income, so I was living with other family members while my parents were getting it together. So, now that I'm stable and now that I'm more blessed, it's always good to give back."

Latisha Skinner, president of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated Alpha Beta Delta chapter in Jackson, said the event not only brought out people of all ages, but was a teaching moment for the younger generation.

"I think it's humbling in times like this," Skinner said. "So anything we can do to uplift people — the excitement when they drive through the lanes, the thank-you's — to really help people."

Have a news tip? Contact Gabriela Szymanowska at gszymanowska@gannett.com, on Twitter or at 601-215-4292.