"If the food pantry wasn't here, I'd have to steal to feed my family," Ford said. Luckily, the Sikeston mother of seven children ranging in age from 4 to 17 years old hasn't had to resort to crime -- and that's because she's been utilizing the food pantry in Sikeston for years.
Each week the Mission distributes about 100 food baskets to Sikeston residents meeting federal guidelines. Those eligible are allowed to receive one food basket a month.
"But I only come when I really need it," Ford said. "It helps tide me over until I can get more for my kids."
Christine Hinds, employee of Sikeston Rescue Mission Food Pantry, said many people who use the food pantry have lost their jobs or are elderly who are trying to supplement their income.
"Often times they are grandparents raising their grandchildren and living on fixed incomes. And now some have relatives who moved in after Hurricane Katrina," Hinds said.
And not everyone who is eligible utilizes the food pantry, Hinds said.
"Some people don't want charity, but it's good to know we're here if they need it," said Marie Barks, who works at the Mission. "They shouldn't feel ashamed to ask for help. And there are needy in all races -- it doesn't make a difference. We all need help once in a while."
If someone has six, seven and 12 kids and are making $500 a month, there's no way they can afford food, Hinds said.
"I don't know how some people live," Barks said. "The cost of food is getting higher and higher, and the paycheck goes nowhere."
The Mission is just one of 165 agencies in a 16-county service area providing food to the hungry through the Bootheel Food Bank in Sikeston.
"We meet a lot of needs people don't even know about," said Dorene Johnson, executive director of Bootheel Food Bank.
Located at 104 Keystone Drive in Sikeston, the Bootheel Food Bank has collected food and household products from the community and industry resources since 1985. It distributes these products and provides nutrition services through a network of not-for profit agencies, which include churches, missions, detox centers, ministerial alliances and emergency feeding programs.
Each month Bootheel Food Bank serves 21,000 people. In one year it provides 4 million pounds of food to its service area. The food bank's senior food basket program serves 2,500 senior citizens each month.
"We're providing food for the tornado victims in Caruthersville. On Tuesday we took a truckload of food and snacks and toiletries provided by Procter and Gamble and passed it on to people in Caruthersville," Johnson said, adding another truckload was expected to be delivered soon.
For 20 years the Bootheel Food Bank has fulfilled the need to feed the hungry -- and that remains its goal today, said Johnson, who's been working at the Food Bank since its beginning.
"When we first opened, we were hoping to decrease the number of hungry but instead it has increased over the years," Johnson said.
The food bank runs off monetary and food donations. The main office building on Keystone and the Sikeston Rescue Mission Food Pantry building at the corner of Murray Lane and Kingshighway are donated by Joel Montgomery of Sikeston. Pepsi-Cola donated the building on South Kingshighway, which is used for the senior food basket program.
In addition to Welfare recipients and low-income people, the food bank now serves a new kind of needy Americans -- people who are accustomed to having sufficient income then lose their jobs," Johnson said.
After the unemployment runs out, the savings account is used up, and the search for a new job is unsuccessful. Then comes the shocking reality that these people fit the description of the "New American Poor," Johnson said.
"They often don't qualify for government assistance," Johnson said. "They are too proud to let people know they need food. The stress of these situations causes family problems. People lose their self-esteem and hope. They need a helping hand."
Johnson said she is thankful for all of the volunteers who help fill boxes and people who've donated money for food and utilities.
"We're glad to have the opportunity to help someone in need," Johnson said. "Sometimes with a great need, a little bit of help goes a long way."
Volunteers, canned goods or fresh produce are always needed, Johnson said. For more information, contact the Bootheel Food Bank at (573) 471-1818.