Ocean Springs woman works to end hunger in community
02 - 06
Hunger is a problem for Mississippians, with ore than 20 percent of residents do not have consistent access to nutritious food.
Some people can’t afford food. Some people aren’t able to get to the store to purchase food. People facing food insecurities are grateful for places like The Lord Is My Help soup kitchen in downtown Ocean Springs, and its founder Kay Woods.
After working with the Peace Corps for three years, Woods was asked to assemble a group from many diversified occupations to create a project that would benefit local citizens in need as her final project.
“We had a lot of meetings to discuss what was needed, and we felt like the community needed a soup kitchen for the elderly and shut-ins and the homeless,” Woods explained. “At that time, fruit pickers went through town on their way to Florida with their whole families, so they also needed a place to eat while in town.”
In 1983, Woods brought together the first group of volunteers to establish The Lord Is My Help.
“Churches got involved and we had a local building donated to us to serve as the soup kitchen, ” Woods recalled. It was a definite need in the community. People on social security got so little that they couldn’t leave decently on what they received. Even in the early days, we served a lot more people than you could imagine.”
From the very beginning, The Lord Is My Help assisted many of those in need through multiple facets.
“We were only supposed to last three years because we got the building donated for temporary use,” Woods said. “The first day we opened we didn’t even have a stove. The local ladies brought crock pots full of food. That first day 20 people came for lunch, and we though that was a lot. Now we serve up to 250 meals a day. Through the years we also had a job bank through an employment agency in Biloxi to help find jobs for people. We also formed a clothing bank. St. Alphonsus Catholic Church donated the building for that, but it had to be torn down. It wasn’t restored because by that time the Salvation Army was established here. We used to be able to give gas money to help with travel but as more things came into place, we had to keep putting more effort into our pantry and soup kitchen. We used to actually help with doctor’s appointments, but we can’t do that anymore. We have too many people to feed now.”
With the volume of meals prepared daily by The Lord Is My Help, it may be heard to believe that out of everyone that puts in time with the organization, only people are actually paid for their work.
“We only have two paid employees, our cook and general manager,” Woods explained. “We pay them because they have to be there every day, and we have to count on them 100 percent. However, the rest of the organization is run by volunteers. We’ve never even paid the director. A lot of local churches donate money, but now we do have to pay rent and utilities on our building, so it takes a lot of money to keep everything running.”
A group of young adults in the community saw the need to financially assist The Lord Is My Help, so they came together to create Feed the Need.
“It’s made up people 18-38 years old that meet once a week all throughout the year just to plan one large event to raise money for our soup kitchen,” Woods said. ” They are their own group, but do have a liaison on our board. They are just young people that decided to help support us. In the first year they raised $8,000. Last year they raised $22,000, and we needed at that because expenses are so high, we do have collection jars in different businesses to help as well.”
Today, 30 years after Woods first established The Lord Is My Help, the overall goal of the organization has not waivered.
“We just want to help people,” Woods said. “Besides feeding people through the soup kitchen or delivering meals, we also have an emergency pantry. It might help people who are on food stamps or a single woman with a large family. Many of the other facilities like ours are in Pascagoula, and that kind of commute can be difficult for some. We want to be here to help the community.”
For anyone in need, the doors to the soup kitchen open at 6a.m., offering cereal, donuts and coffee for breakfast. A hot lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
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