Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Robert St. John: Mississippians Feeding Mississippians

It is said that Texans have an unparalleled pride for their state. My wife grew up there and my father-in-law is from there. Though I find it hard to believe any Texan would have more affection for their state than I have for mine.

I love Mississippi.

I could spend my remaining column inches listing the gifts Mississippi has given to the world in the fields of art, music, literature, food, and culture, but it would take way more than one column to cover all of that. We are blessed in so many ways.

Though, here in my home state of Mississippi, we are last in many of the things we want to be first in and first in so many of the things we want to be last in. Unfortunately, one of the main things we are last in is hunger. Mississippi leads the nation in food insecurity. That was a fact that I didn't believe early on.

Back in 2009 I received a call from the Edward St. Fellowship Center, a local mission pantry. ESFC was formed by a collective of Methodist churches in the area. At the time they were feeding approximately 800 families a month. They were completely out of food, the shelves were empty, and they had clients coming in at the end of the week. They were desperate and asked if I could help them out with a food donation. I figured the easiest, quickest, best way to get food on their shelves was to call in a food order to one of my suppliers and have it drop-shipped to the agency the next day. That happened and they were able to serve their clients that week.

That incident got me thinking that if there were an easier solution to keeping those shelves filled maybe they wouldn't get empty so often.

Extra Table was born.

Though, to be honest with you, at that time I was skeptical there was even a hunger problem in Mississippi. I could see some third world, Central American country having a hard time feeding its citizens. But “This is America,” I thought. I was wrong. Very wrong. I went on a fact-finding mission across the state visiting local food pantries and soup kitchens to see if the problem was a real one. It didn't take me long to discover there is a huge hunger problem in America, and I was living in the state that led the nation.

During that fact-finding mission I learned that many mission pantries and soup kitchens are mostly supplied by canned food drives. Those agencies won't tell you this, but I will, canned food drives are the least effective way to tackle the hunger problem, anywhere. As I was walking through these agencies trying to figure out how to solve help solve the hunger problem, I noticed things on the shelves like blueberry pie filling and other items that serve no purpose in the fight against hunger.

I founded Extra Table on two key principles:

1.) 100% of the money we raise for food will go to purchase food. I didn't want to be a part of any nonprofit or charity that wasted money on excessive salaries and expenses. To do this we formed an entirely separate 501C3 that raises money for our minimal administrative costs.

2.) The food we deliver to agencies must be healthy food. On that initial investigative tour, I noticed most of the foods were not nutritious foods and I made the decision to try our best to deal with low fat proteins, low sugar fruits, low sodium vegetables, and healthy grains.

The Extra Table formula was simple from the start. We would raise money. We would use that money to purchase food at wholesale prices, and then we would deliver that food directly to the agencies, at no cost to them. It was taking business principles and applying them to a nonprofit.

The agencies were skeptical at first. We would approach a food pantry or soup kitchen and introduce ourselves, “Hey, we are Extra Table. We believe you’re doing a great job feeding those in need. We want to send you food.”

“How much is it going to cost? They would ask.

“Nothing. We just want to send you food.” We replied.

“Do you want our donor list?”

“No. We just want to send you food.”

Do you want our mailing list?”

“No. We just want to send you food every month. We will go out and raise the money. We will use that money to purchase healthy food, and— once a month— we will deliver it to your door and even unload the truck and put it on your shelves.” They remained skeptical… until the first delivery arrived.

It didn't take long before Extra Table grew much larger than my schedule allowed. Over the past 14 years we have had three executive directors, each of whom have done a stellar job in growing this nonprofit.

The problem is real. Mississippi is a relatively small state of 2.9 million people. Out of that population there are 670,000 Mississippians who are food insecure. That's over 20%. Over 200,000 of those are kids, many of whom eat a school breakfast and a school lunch, and then don't eat again until the next day. Over 125,000 our senior citizens who, at this moment, are trying to decide if they can afford to pay the electricity bill or go to the grocery store. The problem is real. And it is unacceptable.

My eyes were opened in 2009. I grew up in the home of a single mom public school art teacher. We didn't have much money. But I never missed a meal.

In my opinion, Extra Table is the most efficient and effective nonprofit in the entire state. We run a statewide charity with a staff of three people. During COVID, we shipped 5.9 million pounds of food to over 60 agencies with a staff of one for most of the year. The Extra Table trucks go out to over 62 agencies across the state of Mississippi once a month. This year, Extra Table executive director, Martha Allen and her team of two, will have provided over six million healthy meals to Mississippians in need. We also have so much more in the works.

One of the primary components we installed in the Extra Table business plan was to keep food coming into our partner agencies in a steady manner. Everyone thinks of childhood hunger around Thanksgiving and Christmas. But the sad truth is kids are just as hungry in June and July as they are in November and December. Most feeding agencies face their greatest obstacles in the summer months. That's why our monthly deliveries are spread out evenly across the entire year.

Mississippi has challenges like any other state. Though one of the things that makes me most proud of my home state is that— even though we are the poorest state in the country— we are one of the most charitable. The first time I heard that statistic it was no surprise to me because I have been affiliated with Extra Table for the last 14 years. I have seen the charitable nature of Mississippians and it's just one more thing that makes me so proud to live in this state I call home.

If you are looking for a place to make an end-of-the-year donation, go to and help us continue to feed our neighbors in need.


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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS