In a record one-hour period freshmen bagged 25,000 pounds of free sweet potatoes that were distributed to the community Saturday, Aug. 18, during Jackson State University’s fall 2018 Crop Drop.
All potatoes were gone when the three-hour event (9 a.m. to noon) ended. It was held in the parking lot of the Lee E. Williams Athletics and Assembly Center.THIS year added new twists.
Organizer Carroll Frazier, administrative assistant/community outreach specialist with JSU’s Center for University-Based Development (CUBD), said several special vendors agreed to participate.
Among the participants were Chef Nick Wallace doing a cooking demonstration; University of Mississippi Medical Center Mobile Unit; Society of St. Andrew; Sow Reap Feed; healthy juicer Lynn Ray of Crossroads Café in Ridgeland, and a DJ to pump up the crowd and entertain visitors and patrons.
“My main role was to get everyone here, the potatoes here, get information out to the community, and assemble students for distributing and bagging potatoes,” Frazier said.
“Ultimately, we wanted to bless the community because we were blessed with 25,000 pounds of potatoes. Our patrons learned how to get their weight under control using a 10-day regimen and how to build container gardens,” she said.
Also, Frazier expressed delight that everyone appeared satisfied.
“Because the community shows us love by being supportive and by remaining in the community, JSU wanted to show love in return, too. Also, the students were a big factor. We’ve had more volunteers this year than last year. Students came in droves to bag potatoes. They witnessed what it means to give back and experienced the reaction of people who are grateful to receive the free produce,” she said.FURTHERMORE, Frazier said Crop Drop gave new students an opportunity to get more acquainted with each other.
Mr. JSU Darrian Jackson was among upperclassmen lending a helping hand.
“It’s great being out here because we’re helping to feed a lot of people in the community around JSU. The Crop Drop allows us all to feel like family.”
Meanwhile, Lynn Ray of Crossroads Café squeezed in as a vendor to share her secrets about juicing. The health coach provides fresh organic drinks made of vegetables and fruits for a 15-minute express to healthy nutrition.
“Most of the times we don’t eat the amount of vegetables we need in a day, so this is a perfect way to get the nutrients we need,” she said. One of Ray’s popular 12-ounce mixtures included kale, spinach, celery and cucumbers that will “boost your energy.”
She said the younger people preferred the pineapple-orange-grapefruit juice with ginger. Her other samples included beets with spinach; carrots; green apples; and lemon.
For Chef Wallace, Crop Drop is all about displaying an act of thanksgiving. And, he wants people to eat healthy. Spectators sampled one of his nutritious meals using sweet potatoes.
“I appreciate JSU very much for organizing this event for all the locals.” Wallace said he had moved from Edwards to Jackson a while ago and lived near the university. “So, this is like bringing food back home.”
A regular fixture at JSU’s biannual Crop Drop is Andy Lemmon of the Society of St. Andrew, which runs a gleaning network.
“We go statewide connecting farmers with a surplus of food to areas, communities, agencies and organizations that have a food deficit,” he said.LEMMON added, “Farmers’ donations allow us to feed local people with local food. … They use us as a broker for food pantries and organizations. As a result, we’ve been able to put food in 43 counties in Mississippi in 2018. We also give food to the Mississippi Food Network, which services 40 counties themselves. So, combined, we’re confident we can reach the entire state.”
Additionally, he said the partnership with JSU makes all the difference.
“We like working with an agency such as JSU because it cares about the community and wants to be invested in the success of the neighborhood, the residents, the nonprofits and churches around the area. We need someone that the community trusts, as evident when you have hundreds of vehicles coming through,” Lemmon said.
Offering a similar perspective, one of the freshmen volunteers new to the city and JSU called the experience “exciting.”
Jordan Thompson of Birmingham, Alabama, said, “I like how Jackson State is getting all of us involved. There’s not a dull moment here so far. … I’m looking forward to a new start and more opportunities to help.”
Dr. Josie Bidwell of UMMC has been working closely with Lemmon and St. Andrew. She assisted by performing blood pressure and blood sugar checks; checking height, weight and BMI; and addressing other health education questions.
“Today has been fantastic, and it speaks to the need for providing food to folks in need. That’s also the part of healthcare that we sometimes miss – how we must feed people. … We talked to individuals about how diet can play into their blood sugar, blood pressure and weight, and we also told them how to prepare sweet potatoes and other vegetables in a healthier way.”
Meanwhile, a community patron from the Jackson area took advantage of the free screening. It was his second Crop Drop experience.
Eric Vaughn, a teacher at Murrah High School whose daughter attends JSU, got his blood pressure checked.
“I think a lot of times when dealing with health the biggest thing is preventive care. We must address symptoms before the situation gets out of hand.”FURTHER emphasizing the importance of JSU’s involvement, JSU’s CUBD assistant director Heather Wilcox reiterated a message from JSU President William B. Bynum Jr.
“Dr. Bynum always talks about teamwork, collegiality and leadership. This event exemplifies all those traits that he pushes,” she said. “It’s also an awesome event for our Class of 2022 to feel what community service is about. … They’re having fun, but they also see the great need in the community, and the community can see that our students want to serve.”
Wilcox was happy to see people “walk up, bike up, and drive up. This is so amazing because they leave happy.” She was especially proud that Jackson State set a record by bagging 25,000 pounds of sweet potatoes in one hour.
While students played a huge role, some faculty got in on the action, too.
Dr. Sophia Leggett is an associate professor in the School of Public Health (SPH). She and a colleague in the Department of Behavioral and Environmental Health and Environmental Health Factors lived up to their roles.
“As environmental health faculty in the School of Public Health, this is our way to show our research interest in food security. … This is also a way for the graduate school programs to display student-centeredness.”
Offering her support, too, Dr. Jennifer Sims, a Behavioral and Environmental Health assistant professor, said, “Mississippi is the No. 1 food insecure state in the nation. … So, it’s very important to come out in the community and give these free sweet potatoes … particularly to those in need.”