HATTIESBURG, Miss. - A new study done by the Food Research and Action Center ranks the state of Mississippi No. 1 for food hardship in America.
Food insecurity is when a person or family is not sure where their next meal will come from. The survey asked thousands of households if there were times in the past 12 months when that was the case.
Its results show the national average for food hardship is 18.2 percent; Mississippi's average is 24. 4 percent.
"It makes my heart hurt because I know that there are people that are hungry and there are children that are hungry," said Paula McRee, Christian Services staff member. Their organization prepares meals for those in need.
"People here in Hattiesburg don't realize the problem we have here with people who are hungry," she said. "We are putting out between four and 600 lunches a day from Monday through Friday," said McRee.
The non-profit Extra Table supplies soup kitchens across the state with food every month. The executive director, Raven Tynes, said one of the main reasons for the growing problem is poverty.
"We are finding that as unemployment rises, hunger rises," she said. "There are over 647,000 Mississippians who are in a state of food insecurity."
Tynes said children and senior citizens represent a large portion of those who go hungry.
" Twenty-eight percent of children are relying on a school breakfast and a school lunch for their meals and are not having dinner in the evenings," she said. "Over 56 percent of senior citizens require an outside food source to help them make ends meet every month."
McRee said there is a way to help lower food insecurity.
"W've got to teach people how to get out of poverty before we are going to have this go away," she said.