Nearly 25,000 pounds of sweet potatoes were distributed to a constant stream of vehicles Saturday, Aug. 17, at Jackson State University’s annual Crop Drop event, which provided free sweet potatoes to the community from 9 a.m. – noon.
“It’s part of our freshmen orientation week, and it’s allowing the students an opportunity to get their community service hours and meet our community,” said Heather Wilcox, director of community engagement at JSU. Transfer students are required to complete 60 community service hours while non-transfer students must finish 120 to graduate.The potatoes are donated by the nonprofit Society of St. Andrew, participants in a gleaning grid throughout the state of Mississippi. “Gleaning is where you get access to crops that cannot be sold or the farmers are ready to plant their new crops,” explained Wilcox. “They typically will donate their produce, so they can get their farms ready for next season.”
Unofficially known as the sweet potato capital, the bulk of the sweet potatoes are from Vardaman, Mississippi, said the director.
“I think it’s important for us to do this event because some are more fortunate than others,” said Terry Bennett, prevention specialist for Metro Jackson Community Prevention Coalition. “It’s always good to give to those who may need it.”A new feature of the Crop Drop was a sweet potato pie contest and seasonings like barbecue sauce, ketchup and honey mustard, plus vegetables from the Blackburn Middle School Garden were also given away. Overall, the event provides JSU students an opportunity to interact with the neighborhoods surrounding the HBCU while being a valuable community resource.
According to Wilcox, nearly 3,000 people were supplied with 2,500 bags of sweet potatoes, and approximately 153 students volunteered their services.
Students like Shaundra Bennett, a freshmen political science major, spent the morning unboxing, unwrapping and “getting in where she fits in.” The Jackson native said she never passes up a chance to serve.
“This Crop Drop brings a number of people out here who are in need, and I am more than happy to assist in any way possible,” she said. “There are some people in this area who may feel that they have nowhere to turn, and being that Jackson State University is the heart of the community, it’s only right that we get out here and help our fellow man.”
Bennett said she is looking to work in the public sector with a concentration in law and government, but for now, “it’s initiatives like the Crop Drop that are my focus.”
From a student perspective, the freshmen said volunteering is prepping for the future. “There is never a time where you’re too young to help. As we grow and become older, we will see what our work has done to impact our fellow man. This is a great experience for young people and adults,” she said, adding that she loves oven-roasted sweet potatoes. “You don’t even need sugar, just add a little cinnamon and some butter, and you are good to go.”
The Rev. Kevin Kosh, campus minister at JSU, stressed the importance of student visibility. “Because a lot of times, there can be a disconnect between the college campus and the community. We might have book smarts, but if you don’t have a relationship with the people you serve, there will always be a disconnect,” said Kosh, who is also the director of the Wesley Foundation.Wanting to be an example of leadership and service, Grant Broadway, Mister Jackson State University 2019, said that it’s not about “sitting in your room expecting people to think you’re important.”
The senior biology/prepharmacy major urged others to be the standard. “You have to set an example. JSU enables us as students to do that through events like this; serving the community. JSU sets the precedent, so we can continue to do it on our own and create a bigger impact.”
Another familiar face was Naysa Lynch, Miss Jackson State University 2019, who said she has been attending the event as a volunteer since 2016, her freshman year.
“It is my duty to help freshmen get acclimated to the way JSU does things around here,” said the senior, before admitting she is overwhelmed with emotion since it is her last Crop Drop as an undergraduate.A native of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Lynch confessed that as a youth she refused to eat vegetables, including sweet potatoes. However, the business marketing major said she now enjoys them due to her palate maturing over time. “We eat them in the Virgin Islands with our foods. We’ll eat sweet potatoes with dumplings and saltfish and things like that. That will be a meal to last you all day long.”
Monique Lynch Richards, Naysa Lynch’s mother, was visiting from the U.S. Virgin Islands and came out to support her daughter and the university.
“I saw it on the school’s webpage a few years ago when she first started at JSU. I thought it was an awesome community service project. To be here is like a dream come true for me,” shared Richards.
The mom said she fell in love with the HBCU on the very first day she dropped her daughter off for school. “The staff, everyone whom I met was so accommodating and warm. I left with my heart full knowing she would be well taken care of. Seeing her blossom over the last couple of years, I am just so grateful to God for everything,” she gushed.
Richards agreed that Jackson State should continue to partner students with the community in the spirit of giving back and teamwork. It is one of the reasons she said the university has a permanent place in her heart.
“I just want to say that I’m really happy with Jackson State. I advocate back home for the school 24/7 because I’m really pleased with what I’ve seen and the experiences I’ve had,” said Richards. “I would like to really encourage any young child who has aspirations to better themselves in life; give Jackson State a try.”