So officials at the Delta Area Economic Opportunity Corporation are changing their providers for Head Start Centers, bidding the job out to grocery stores and suppliers located within the six-county area it serves.
"We're reviewing all of our buying processes and seeing where we're purchasing our goods and services," said Marsha Mills, director of client services. They're looking for items including food, office supplies and even toilet paper. "We want to do all of that, as much as we can, locally."
Jean Barham, executive director, agreed. "Providing local businesses with the opportunity to supply food products to local Head Start centers is the first step that DAEOC is undertaking to improve the overall economic viability of Bootheel communities," she said.
"Previously we had been buying our food for our 17 Head Start centers from centralized vendors, most of them out of state or at least out of the Bootheel area," said Mills. The food was ordered in bulk, then stored in a central warehouse and dispersed to the centers as needed.
DAEOC is one of the largest employers in the area, with about 350 employees in the six counties it serves, Mills said. "We also bring in about $15 million into the Bootheel area on an annual basis," she added. "We are interested in economic development and we need to spend more of our money in our own area."
About a half-million dollars will be put back into the community in terms of the food budget, Mills said.
"If the buck keeps turning, that helps not only the local businesses we buy from, but the people that work for the businesses, etc., etc.," she continued. "We're hoping to put our money where our mouth is."
To inform grocers in Scott, New Madrid, Mississippi, Stoddard, Pemiscot and Dunklin counties of the change, letters were sent out, which were followed with phone calls last week, Mills said. Bids are due Aug. 17, and the center plans to begin purchasing locally by mid-September.
"By the first of October, we'll be using locally purchased foods almost exclusively," she said.
The warehouse area currently used to store the bulk goods will be used to fulfill other space needs in the central office.
But there may be some hurdles. "Making this change will not be simple," said Barham. "USDA regulations are very stringent regarding the quality and nutritional value of food served in the Head Start program."
For instance, each site must maintain documentation of food's child nutritional value. And before a different brand is used, that information must be available and food must meet the USDA standards. "So good planning is required by both the vendor and the Head Start program," Barham said.
However, DAEOC officials are eagerly anticipating the changes and spurring more business in the communities. "We're excited about developing better connections with folks in our communities," Mills said.
Anyone with questions about the change may contact Mills at (573) 379-3851.