Thanksgiving is my favorite non-religious holiday. It’s not even close. I guess it’s been that way as long as I can remember.
In my early years, Thanksgiving was all about the food. My grandmother always put out a great spread at Thanksgiving. She was an excellent cook and an extremely gifted hostess. Entertaining guests in her home— whether family, friends, or both— always seemed like an effortless endeavor for her.
These days I appreciate Thanksgiving because it’s a time to share a meal with family and friends. The Thanksgiving meal I serve these days is nothing more than a slightly updated version of what my grandmother served back in the 1960s and 1970s. I am blessed to have received such a solid foundation when it comes to feeding others and entertaining in my home.
Though, the older I get, the more I am aware that there are far too many people who don’t know where, when, or if they will receive their next meal. In Mississippi, one out of every five citizens can’t afford enough food to lead a healthy lifestyle. There are over 600,000 of the state’s 2.9 million citizens who suffer from food insecurity. Over half of that total are children.
Those children are leading an entirely different childhood than the one I was blessed with. There are Mississippi kids today who exist on school meals for breakfast and lunch, and don’t eat again until the next day’s school breakfast. The problem is real. Hunger doesn’t just exist in some third-world Central American country, or overseas where your church or synagogue is doing mission work. It’s in your hometown.
Over 20% of senior citizens in Mississippi are having trouble making ends meet and can’t lead a healthy lifestyle. They aren’t worried about choosing between cornbread dressing or stuffing on Thanksgiving Day. They’re wondering if they will have anything at all and still be able to pay the electricity bill.
Thanksgiving to most of us means a full table with leftovers for days. But it isn’t even a blip on the map to someone who is struggling to feed themselves on an average weekday. Mississippi is the number one state in the nation for food insecurity, and it’s the last thing we want to be number one in.
In 2009, I founded Extra Table, a 501c3 non-profit established on the premise of— what if every home and business in Mississippi had an extra table where they could feed their neighbors in need. Over the past 12 years, Extra Table has grown into a statewide force for feeding Mississippians in need, and currently raises money to deliver healthy food to over 50 agencies across the state at no cost to the agency.
Extra Table was founded on two key principles that we still follow today.
1.) 100% of the money we raise for food goes to purchase food.
2.) The food we deliver to food agencies across the state is healthy food.
Today, every dollar Extra Table receives allows us to deliver 5.9 healthy meals to feeding agencies from the Delta to the Coast, from the Hill Country to the Piney Woods, from the state capital to the campuses of most of our state institutions of higher learning, and many points in between.
Our procedural approach has grown more effective over the years. In the early days, we purchased food from a single foodservice distributor and had it dropped shipped to our partner agencies. These days, we have partnered with the fine folks at Chow Purchasing, and through their kindness, generosity, and contacts we purchase tractor-trailer loads of food from all across the country at below-wholesale prices. Thanks to Chow’s bigheartedness and passion for the Extra Table mission they allow us to store all of that food in their warehouse—and they deliver it to our partner agencies—at no cost to Extra Table.
Extra Table is a big-heart non-profit founded on business principles. As I have learned over the course of my 40- year restaurant career, one must be fluid and light on one’s feet if one is to succeed in business. A successful non-profit— and a successful business— must be open to new opportunities and methods of operation. That is why Extra Table has 2,000 turkeys to give away to families in need this Thanksgiving.
Since March 2020, the supply chain has limited almost every industry to some extent. We heard from some of our purchasing partners that turkeys are going to be a little scarce this Thanksgiving. So, Extra Table executive director Martha Allen and her team got to work and purchased 2,000 turkeys. Extra Table will distribute the turkeys to our partner agencies who will, in turn, make sure that their clients who would have gone without this Thanksgiving will have a turkey on the table for their family.
Extra Table is letting our friends and supporters sponsor families in need this Thanksgiving for a $15.00 donation per bird. If you would like to buy a turkey for a Mississippi family who otherwise would not have one on their table this year go to extratable.org and click on the turkey button. We’ll make it happen.
I grew up with a single mom who supported my brother and me on an art teacher’s salary. We didn’t have much money, but we never missed a meal. We certainly never missed a Thanksgiving meal. You can make sure 2,000 Mississippi families have a Thanksgiving meal by donating to Extra Table.
If you’re feeling thankful this year and in the giving spirit. If you remember how much Thanksgiving meals have meant to you and your family throughout your life and you want to help someone else. You can purchase an extra turkey when you’re at the grocery store and take it to a family in need. I fully endorse that idea. Or you can go to extratable.org— to what I believe is the most efficient, effective, and innovative answer to fighting hunger in Mississippi— and for $15.00 we’ll make sure that turkey gets to a Mississippi family in your area. Either way, you’re helping your neighbors in need.