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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Extra Table— A Progress Report

June 11, 2012

A few years ago I received a call from the Edwards Street Fellowship Center in my hometown of Hattiesburg, Miss. The small, almost all-volunteer facility feeds over 800 families every month. They were out of food and needed help.

I figured the quickest, easiest way to help Edwards Street would be to call my Sysco salesperson, put together a quick food order, and have them deliver it the following day. Unfortunately, that wasn’t easy at all. Sysco carries over 15,000 individual items in their Jackson warehouse, most of which are large commercial restaurant sized portions, what I needed were small cans and family-sized portions. A few days later I finished sorting through the product list, completed the order, and sent it to Edwards Street.

I began to think that businesses and individuals would give more freely, and more often, if there were an easier way to do it. I wondered: What if every restaurant, business, and home in Mississippi had an extra table just to feed the needy. The idea for Extra Table was born.

A few months later I approached the leaders of Sysco of Jackson with the idea. They were behind it 100%. A few months after that, in December of 2009, Extra Table made its first food delivery— fittingly to the Edwards Street Fellowship Center.

Since then we have inched our way along. People have continued to donate funds and Extra Table has made sure that 100% of all donations went to purchase healthy foods— low-sugar fruits, low-fat meats, vegetables, and healthy grains. Thousands of families across the state have received food donations. Growing children who were surviving on a school breakfast and a school lunch, but were not eating again until the next morning, are being fed a healthy dinner thanks to your donations.

Extra Table partnered with The Greater Pine Belt Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson to make it easier for non-Sysco foodservice customers to give. School groups, civic organizations, banks, churches, and hundreds of individuals have purchased food packages and donated food through the community foundations.

All of this has happened as a result of the kindness and generosity of Mississippians, and in spite of the charity’s founder— me. I am passionate about Extra Table and its mission, but I quickly learned if this worthy, and much needed, non-profit organization was going to grow and flourish, it needed a fulltime leader.

That is when Bill Ray, the executive director of the Asbury Foundation in Hattiesburg, stepped up to the plate with a sizable donation to help fund the first-year salary for a full-time director.

When thinking about whom to hire for the executive director’s position, I told my wife we need someone like our friend Raven Tynes. While drawing up the job description, duties, and responsibilities of the potential executive director I used Raven Tynes as the example of the “perfect hire” in my hiring model. Finally it hit me, why don’t I just go talk to Raven Tynes. I did. I asked Tynes to give me her idea of the perfect job/career. She described Extra Table without even knowing she was interviewing for the position.

Raven Tynes started her job as executive director of Extra Table just a little over a week ago. She hit the ground running. Folks, this thing is about to take off, which is to say, there are a lot of hungry children in Mississippi who are going to be fed.

There is a need. Trust me, there is a HUGE need.

I was a skeptic. For years I had a very cynical attitude towards hunger in Mississippi. “Get a job,” was my attitude. What I learned is that many clients who receive food from mission pantries are employed. They are single mothers trying to make ends meet.

While you’re reading this, a significant number of Mississippi’s seniors are debating on whether to pay the electricity bill or buy groceries. Over the course of a day there are over 647,000 Mississippians living at risk of hunger. Real skipping-meals, days-without-food type hunger— not in some remote foreign country— here in Mississippi.

While we’re planning our next family vacation, there are millions of parents hoping to just make it through the night. They have no clue as to what they’ll feed their children for breakfast. I have two children who have never missed a meal. I want to do everything I can to make sure that no child in Mississippi goes to bed hungry at night.

A few weeks ago I received another call from the Edwards Street Fellowship Center. They were completely out of food and had a few hundred clients coming in the next day to pick up boxes of food. “Can you increase your Extra Table order this month?” they asked. All it took was one phone call to the Greater Pine Belt Community Foundation on behalf of Extra Table and a Sysco truck delivered over 1,500 pounds of healthy food the next day.

Thank you.

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