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Effort To Combat Mid-South Hunger Slated

By ROBERT LEE LONG | DTT | Community Editor May 22, 2017
[Pictured Above: Austin Avery, Executive Director of Fish-N-Loaves and his wife Laresia, have big plans to help end hunger in DeSoto County and the Mid-South. The couple will take place at the first-ever Hunger Summit at the Landers Center on April 26.]

When one hears the word “summit,” the image of foreign leaders from many different countries converging on one spot comes to mind.

One of the most important summits in the Mid-South on one of the most important topics — the food we eat — is slated for April 26 at the Landers Center in Southaven.

The first-ever DeSoto Hunger Summit is open to nonprofits, churches, restaurants, farmers/growers and retailers. Registration for the summit gathering is this week.

Anna Dickerson, Director of Community Education for the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi, provided some startling statistics for food consumption and hunger in a region typically considered as affluent.

“It’s estimated that 14.5 percent of DeSoto County residents know what it means to go without food regularly,” Dickerson said. “Would you believe it if we said that 40 percent of the food produced in the United States never actually touches a plate?”

Dickerson said a group of entrepreneurs, nonprofits, food banks, growers and producers, among representatives of other organizations, will gather to share ideas and plan solutions to ending hunger for many individuals.

“Solving hunger is no stranger to many great organizations in DeSoto County and we applaud their efforts on a daily basis. In order to aid those organizations and others that want to further improve the food insecurity issue in DeSoto County, many leaders in the community have joined forces to present the first-ever DeSoto County Hunger Summit,” Dickerson said.

One of those individuals who is eagerly awaiting the Hunger Summit is Austin Avery, the executive director of Fish-N-Loaves organization.

A computer engineer/technician by trade, Avery and his wife Laresia “Reesie” Avery wanted to help those individuals in need. With their home paid for and material possessions beyond measure, they wish to pass on some of those blessings to others.

The couple have recently purchased several acres in Marshall County to grow food for the greater Mid-South region and have a model to set up solar-powered aquaponics community gardens in selected communities across the area.

The aquaponics will be self-sustaining greenhouses which can produce more than six tons of food despite their relatives modest size and footprint.

“On April 26, we’ll have a small unit demonstration of this,” Avery recently told members of the Rotary Club of Hernando.

The key to solving hunger is providing access to healthy food, not the junk food and non-nutritious foods consumed by individuals mired in poverty.

The couple have begun assisting individuals in the historically underprivileged West End community of Hernando.

“Mississippi ranks No. 1 in lack of access to affordable, nutritious food,” Avery said. “America has more than enough food to feed everyone. But our abundance is accompanied by tremendous waste. We have people who go hungry in Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee and the Mid-South. We have the food to feed them but it’s not affordable and they don’t have access to it. We’ve made a dent in food waste, and if we can turn it around and give it to someone who is hungry, then we have made a dent in food insecurity.”

In early 2016, Avery and his wife bought an old school bus and converted it to solar power.

“We now deliver food directly to families in Hernando, Nesbit and Eudora the first of every month,” Avery said. “Each week, we pick up food from local restaurants. It’s not just giving food to everybody who asks for it. It is all validated. Right now, we also go to Walmart to get food to feed people who are hungry but we know long term that method is not sustainable.”

Avery, a computer engineer with specialized skills, plans to “go live” online in May with a new program, the first of its kind in Mississippi, in which restaurants will be able to take pictures of food through a smart food portal to be picked up by volunteers and delivered to a hungry person in need.

To Avery, it’s all about giving back to the community.

“We believe if we give our gifts to others, we can make something happen for the glory of God,” Avery said.

The Hunger Summit event is free to attend, but registration is required. To register or for more information contact Anna Dickerson with the Community Foundation at adickerson@cfnm.org.

Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at rlong@desototimestribune.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.
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