In 2009 a local area food pantry contacted Hattiesburg, MS restaurateur Robert St. John in a panic. They were set to receive 800 food insecure individuals in two days but had no food left in their pantry. St. John then called a representative from food services company Sysco, who agreed to deliver leftover food at cost to the pantry in time for their constituents to receive it. But while one problem was solved, St. John realized that if this was happening in Hattiesburg, similar situations must have been happening all over the state.
He was right. At the time, Mississippi had the highest rate of food insecure individuals per capita in the nation with over 670,000 individuals. 200,000 of those individuals were children and 150,000 were seniors. However, the problem didn’t end there. While Mississippi had a strong network of food pantries working as best they could, these pantries often either had not enough food, unstable delivery schedules, or food selections that were far from healthy. Pantries were also dependent on food drives, which were often few and far between or brought in expired and unhealthy food options.
St. John’s initial call to Sysco was the first step in the creation of Extra Table. After the success of the Hattiesburg delivery, he travelled the state and discovered that all over food pantries were experiencing the same problems as those in Hattiesburg. St. John took this knowledge and created “Extra Table,” a nonprofit with a two-pronged solution: 100% of all money raised would go to purchase food and all food would be healthy. He teamed with Sysco, which would provide all food at cost and use their pre-existing delivery models to make sure all pantries were well stocked with healthy options.
By 2016 Extra Table had grown from a small idea to a fully sustainable, successful model of healthy food distribution. In that year alone Extra Table delivered over 400,000 pounds of food to 22 agencies throughout Mississippi. Better still, Extra Table has reshaped Mississippi’s pantries to focus on healthy foods with a strong focus on lean proteins such as tuna and chicken, low sodium canned vegetables and no foods containing high fructose corn syrup.
In 2017 Extra Table estimates it will deliver over half a million pounds of healthy foods to Mississippi’s food pantries. As news of their work grows, so too do donations to the organization. Best of all, not only has Extra Table provided food to Mississippi’s neediest, it has created a culture of health for them through nutrition, thus improving the overall health of Mississippians.