In John 21:15-17 Jesus tells Simon Peter to "feed His sheep," no less than three times in response to Peter's declaration that he loves the Lord.
For David Stephens, Director of the Mid-South Food Bank, that gentle admonition by Jesus to his beloved disciple is something that Stephens takes to heart.
"Hunger, by its nature, is something that comes up very frequently in the Bible," Stephens said. "Jesus often cites food and talks about hunger and thirst."
Beginning this past May and ending July 31, the Mid-South Food Bank will run a Food Donation Contest entitled "DeSoto Operation Feed" throughout DeSoto County.
All food collected will be distributed evenly to the following local pantries in DeSoto County: 5 Loaves & 2 Fish Ministry, HeartLand Hands, Interfaith Food Pantry, Olive Branch Food Pantry, Sacred Heart Southern Missions and Samaritans.
For Andrew Bell, Communications Manager for the Mid-South Food Bank, making sure children and adults don't go hungry or suffer from improper nutrition is a spiritual calling.
"In the Bible, a lot of Christ's metaphors that he uses have to do with food," said Bell, a member of the United Methodist church. "He (Jesus) knew that food would be the common denominator in our lives no matter how many luxuries we might have in society. In the summertime, when our families are planning summer vacations and we're sending our kids off to church camp, we need to keep our neighbors in mind — those who might have food insecurity. What could be more important than helping a family who might not only not have enough food to eat but nutritious food to eat."
As a contest, the folks at Mid-South Food Bank are looking for local businesses and organizations interested in collecting donations to please register to participate. There will be prizes for those that collect the most food.
It seems somewhat bewildering but there are youngsters and others in the Mid-South region who go hungry each day or lack proper nutrition.
There are more than 23,000 adults and between 7,800 and 9,000 children in DeSoto County who face food insecurity, according to Feeding America.
In the Mid-South Food Bank's entire service area, 23.3 percent of children are food insecure, according to the 2017 Map the Meal Gap hunger study. That's nearly one in every five children.
"We have a lot of struggling families," Bell said. "They are often referred to as the working poor. Their children often rely on free and reduced lunches but when school is out the cafeterias are closed down. It puts a great strain on working families."
Even short-term nutritional deficiency can impact a child's health and ability to learn. Mid-South Food Bank serves children in the region by distributing food through its partner agencies, and through the child hunger programs such as "Kids Cafe" and the "Food for Kids BackPack Program."
Kids Cafe provides nutritious meals to almost 300 kids daily in a safe environment, where they are served by volunteers and have an opportunity to learn the importance of nutritious eating through meals - including fresh produce - and instruction.
For children in more than 31 counties, both Stephens and Bell say efforts like "Operation Feed" can make a major difference in the lives of children and their families.
"Operation Feed is that driving force," Stephens said.
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at email@example.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.