The City of Jackson announced Monday it had been awarded $120,000 in the form of a grant from the National League of Cities to help battle hunger.

The funds will go towards launching Jackson’s “Meals Matter” campaign, which will partner with Jackson Public Schools to help make meals more accessible for children. While JPS already provides summer meals, the campaign hopes to establish weekend and after-school meals as well.

“The Jackson Meals Matter campaign will increase awareness about hunger in our city, and the need for more feeding programs and initiatives in summer and after-school programs,” said Candice Cole, the Mayor’s Director of Communications.

She added that the campaign will be key to Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s goal of decreasing hunger in Jackson by 25 percent. Cole cited that over 30 percent of Jackson, including children, live in “dire poverty.”

According to a study by the Food Research and Action Center, only about 8 percent of Mississippi children who are fed through the National School Lunch Program also participate in their school’s summer lunch program, ranking it 47th among all states. Twenty-five percent of Hinds County is food insecure, according to Feeding America, compared to a 13 percent rate for the whole country.

In addition to providing more meals with JPS, the campaign will also create an online directory for food options in the city. The initiative will be led by the city’s Department of Human and Cultural Services and the Department of Parks and Recreation.

“The Jackson Meals Matter campaign will rely heavily on data from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), the Department of Human Services, JPS, and the Hinds County Head Start service program to determine which populations of the community will be experiencing hunger,” said Ison Harris Jr., Director of Parks and Recreation.

He added the campaign will help people not already enrolled in SNAP or Women, Infants, and Children (known as WIC) sign up for those services. Harris estimated, through the campaign’s 36 anti-hunger events, that enrollment in those programs among Jacksonians will increase by at least 20 percent.

“We’re also looking to work to overcome the following challenges, which often stigmatize those in need of hunger services, such as embarrassment just for asking for help, lack of trust in governmental programs, accessibility to resources, and overcoming their pride that may keep some families from reaching out for assistance,” Harris said.

The campaign will also implement a mascot and food truck in collaboration with JPS to help promote the program. Harris noted the campaign is looking for a food truck, and “if anyone has a truck that they want to get rid of, we will definitely take it as well.”

The National League of Cities’ grant is part of its CHAMPS program, which aims at providing more meals to children through summer and after-school meals. The others to receive the grant are Allentown, Pa., Durham, N.C., Little Rock, Ark., Miami Gardens, Fl., and Winston-Salem, N.C.

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Alex Rozier, from New York City, is Mississippi Today’s data and environment reporter. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Open Secrets, and on In 2019, Alex was a grantee through the Pulitzer Center’s Connected Coastlines program, which supported his coverage around the impact of climate change on Mississippi fisheries.