Starkville Strong, a Facebook group of local volunteers, is taking on food insecurity in Starkville through a number of pop-up pantries spread throughout the city.
Starkville Strong was started at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic with the goal of supporting small businesses and restaurants. In the months following, administrator Brandi Duncan-Herrington, the owner and artist of Dunkington Art & Jewelry, has switched the focus to the community as a whole.
"I decided that the community needed help as well, and that, if the community was stronger, then it could better support small businesses," Herrington said. "It's a cycle."
The pantries are expected to reach a total of seven in the coming weeks, with current locations at the First United Methodist Church, the Wesley Foundation and the Episcopal Church office. Four more pantries will soon be found at the J.L. King Center, Emerson Family School, the Boys and Girls Club and Sudduth Elementary School.
Regina Hyatt, MSU's vice president for student affairs, said the pantries are a great source for people in need.
"I am so impressed and grateful for the efforts of Starkville Strong in building, installing and maintaining mini-pantries across our community," Hyatt said. "Food insecurity impacts so many people, and easily accessible resources like those provided by these Starkville Strong pantries are another layer of support for our community members in need."
The pantries are stocked with non-perishable food and personal hygiene items, including feminine products, deodorant, toothpaste and toothbrushes.
"The pantries are for anyone who needs food or hygiene items," Herrington said. "It could be someone in severe poverty, or it could be someone who has just lost wages and needs a little help to get through the end of the week. It really is for anyone and everyone in need."
During the winter months, the pantries also contain some perishable foods, including bread, tortillas and fruit. Local restaurants occasionally drop off leftovers, too, Herrington said, including bagels from Proof Bakery.
"We have volunteers and people in the community that push the campaign to keep the pantries filled," Herrington said. "I have several people and organizations that go by and fill it as well. They empty out quickly, though, so it's a process."
Starkville Strong also holds pantry hours once a month, where volunteers will hand out bags of food and other resources at one of the pantry locations or a community center. Pantry hours offer foods which cannot be placed at the pantries, such as meat, cheese and butter.
On Martin Luther King Day, the group held pantry hours at the J.L. King Center, and it plans to have another event at the end of the month.
Starkville Strong aims to meet the immediate needs and fill the gaps in food insecurity, unemployment and overall quality of life in Starkville. The volunteer group has received help in expanding its food pantries from MSU student organizations like Day One Leadership and the local Habitat for Humanity chapter.
In addition to the pantries, Starkville Strong has several other ongoing projects, including initiatives to combat local homelessness and unemployment.
Herrington said they accept used cell phones and buy SIM cards for them, so people can get job interviews and return calls. She also said Starkville Strong has found permanent housing for almost 30 homeless people in Starkville.
Volunteers can get involved by joining the Facebook group or following Starkville Strong's Instagram and Twitter pages. It can also be found on the Maroon Volunteer portal.
Herrington said Starkville Strong welcomes donations, as they are the only funding the volunteer group receives.
"It's a group effort, it really is. The effort comes from the community, the volunteers, my Starkville Strong team," Herrington said. "We are just a group of regular people that are volunteers, so funding and donations from the community is how we survive."
Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill expressed her gratitude to Starkville Strong for helping community members in need and promoting kindness during difficult times.
"This program has been a gift to our community in a time of need," Spruill said. "I have no doubt that this community effort will be one that fosters the best in our residents."