An estimated 2,000 families benefited from this week’s Crop Drop, a biannual event that provides free sweet potatoes to the community from JSU and its partners.
Aside from the nearly 20,000 pounds of potatoes, free heads of lettuce were also distributed Tuesday in the parking lot of Blackburn Middle School near the university campus.
Dr. Kimberly Hilliard is executive director of JSU’s Office of Community Engagement, which organized the event. She said a farmer in Vardaman donated the sweet potatoes, and the Mississippi Food Network provided the lettuce.
Hilliard said, “This event has gained tremendous community support. We’ve had people walking up asking for the free food as well as long lines of cars that have been here since 7 a.m. We are happy to do this and show the community that the university cares.”
As well, she said, “We offer services to the sick and shut-in. Church and community members tell us about people in their neighborhoods who are not mobile. We will provide a limited drop-off service for individuals in West Jackson.”
Heather Wilcox, assistant director for JSU’s Center for University-based Development (CUBD), is the lead organizer of the event. She described it as “totally successful.”
Wilcox said, “We have many student and staff volunteers. The community really showed up. This event is free to the community, and we want to help out in any way we can. We will touch at least 2,000 families today.”
She also said she wants everyone to know that JSU and its students are committed to community service.‘This is more than just receiving mandatory community service hours because I completed that requirement in my junior year. All that I do now is about giving back to the community.’ — Dre’Quan Cooley, a graduating senior studying business marketing “This is one of those events in which the students actually get to interact with members of the community. It’s always great to see this interaction because the community loves our students, and students love our community.
Dre’Quan Cooley, a 22-year-old graduating business-marketing senior, was among dozens of volunteers.
The Laurel native said, “I saw that we’ve done this event in the past. Those times I either was in class or had to work, but this time I was available. I just wanted to come out and help in the community. Events like these are about leaving your mark and helping others. This is more than just receiving mandatory community service hours because I completed that requirement in my junior year. All that I do now is about giving back to the community. I’m excited to see people smile as they pick up food for their homes. I love this feeling.”
Andy Lemmon works with the nonprofit Society of St. Andrew – one of JSU’s longtime partners with the Crop Drop.
“We work with farmers who have surplus food and want to share it with the community. We help to coordinate the logistics,” Lemmon said.
“We’re witnessing the community coming together and working. Farmers gave us the potatoes; JSU gave us volunteers; and the community is coming out and helping itself,” he said.
Lemmon said, “We’ve got many people coming through the lines, and we’re saying, ‘One bag of potatoes and one head of lettuce for you.’ But they’re saying, ‘I’m getting some for my neighbor and for my mom.’ I said, ‘I want to make sure we have enough for everybody, so can you loop around again?’ One lady looped through six times for her mom, aunt and a neighbor down the street who doesn’t have a car. It shows her dedication to helping improve her family, neighbor and the community.”
Lemmon said this project is a tremendous team effort.
“You’ve got all these groups coming together playing a huge role. None of this would have happened working alone,” he said.
Lemmon acknowledged Jackson State University, the Mississippi Food Network, the Society of St. Andrew and the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi. “When we come together we do something much bigger than ourselves.”
Mr. JSU-elect Darrian Jackson, a junior physics major from Jackson, was also among the student volunteers.
“This is the most fun community-service project that I’ve participated in at JSU. It’s also fun interacting with other students sacking potatoes. This event is beneficial because it’s convenient for the community as they drive up and students place the produce in their vehicles. It’s also free. I hope that we’ll be able to one day add other vegetables such as corn, along with watermelons that we’ve had in the past.”
Alvin Ainsworth is a regular visitor to the Crop Drop, too. The retired Florence resident gets a case of sweet potatoes right before the event ends to assist his charitable venture. Over a three-day period, he’ll make more than 700 pies for distribution to hospitals and other places throughout the Jackson and Florence areas.
Free food, however, isn’t the only great aspect about Crop Drop. Recycling is another element.
Hilliard said, “As part of JSU’s ‘Go Blue, Be Green’ campaign, JSU will make sure everything that can be recycled will be recycled. After the lettuce has been distributed, the cardboard boxes used to transport them will be recycled. We want to make sure we have a positive impact on the community and the world.”