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Robert St. John

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

Give Or Receive?

December 16, 2014

Sometimes it’s better to receive than give.

Certainly that falls contrary to everything I have been taught all of my life. In my professional career I have tried to live by a 30-year commitment of giving back, but if one is affiliated in any way with a charitable organization then being on the receiving end of things will leave one extremely grateful.

Extra Table, the 501c-3 non-profit that I founded in 2009 just had a banner month. We raised more money in one week than we did all of last year. That is huge. The best part about last week is that 100% of those donations will be used to purchase healthy foods to send to mission pantries and soup kitchens from Jackson to the Gulf Coast.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t even put a dent in the problem that affects our state. Extra Table is committed to ending hunger in Mississippi. Over 660,000 of our neighbors suffer from “food insecurity” which is a government term for citizens who go to bed hungry and don’t have access to enough food to lead a healthy, normal lifestyle.

It is real and it is a huge problem. Of those 660,000, over 220,000 are children who are eating a school breakfast and a school lunch and then not eating again until the next day’s school breakfast. Those aren’t statistics from some third-world country. That is the reality in your town in Mississippi. These are your neighbors, and over 180,000 of them are senior citizens, who are— at this very moment— trying to decide if they can pay their utility bill or go to the grocery store because of fixed incomes. Almost 20% of those served by our agencies are veterans and four percent are active military.

There was a time that I was skeptical that there was even a need, and wondered if we actually had a hunger problem at all. I had no difficulty believing that there were hunger issues halfway across the globe, but here in the United States, the richest, most prosperous country on the planet? We have food stamps, WIC, welfare, and several other government assistance programs for those in need. The deeper I researched the more I learned how wrong I was. Unfortunately, I was actually living in the state that had the most food insecurity in the nation.

Many have trouble reconciling that Mississippi is the fattest state in the nation and also the most food insecure. How could that be? If one spends any time studying the national statistics one learns that the two— hunger and obesity— almost always go hand in hand. If someone doesn’t have enough money to purchase proper foods at a grocery store, he or she will go to the nearest convenience store and eat junk. The need for food is our most basic need. Something is better than nothing in the eyes of many who suffer.

Next year Extra Table will begin to cover the northern half of the state and our goal is to be in all 82 counties by year’s end. So far, Mississippians have stepped up to the plate and put this worthwhile effort on the “receiving end” of a lot of giving.

Please consider Extra Table, or any of the local food charities in your area, at the end of this year. We all need your financial support, your vocal support in helping us spread the word, and— most of all— your prayers.

These days it’s feeling pretty good to be on the receiving end because each time we receive, that’s one more child, one more veteran, and one more citizen that won’t have to go to bed hungry. After three decades in the restaurant industry, I began to ask myself “At the end of my career do I want to be the guy who fed people filet mignon, or do I want to be the guy who fed people canned tuna?”

It’s an easy answer. Canned tuna wins every time.

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