Along with cool weather, the holidays can bring tough times to low-income families and individuals across the nation. Poverty has long been an issue in Mississippi, and Hattiesburg currently experiences much higher poverty than the state as a whole.
For 2010 – 2014, the median household income in Hattiesburg was $27,827, according to the United States Census Bureau. This is $11,000 less than the median household income of the state and $8,000 less than the Forrest County average. In Hattiesburg, 37.2 percent of people live in poverty compared to 22 percent at the state level and 26 percent in Forrest County. The national average for persons living below the poverty line is 13.5 percent. The poverty threshold for an individual was about $12,000 in 2014 and $24,000 for a family of four.
With over one-third of Hattiesburg living in poverty, many are reaching out for assistance to make it through the holiday season.
Christian Services, a local non- profit, has served low-income families in the Hattiesburg area for more than three decades. Christian Services provides a wide variety of assistance, from serving hot meals daily to providing free budget and legal counseling. Last year, Christian Services served more than 185,000 meals, some through its soup kitchen and many delivered to senior citizens unable to leave their homes. The holidays are some of the busiest times for Christian Services, but its workers and volunteers are eager to help.
Christian Services Community Relations Director Vanessa Henson said that as the holidays are approaching, she wants people struggling with finances to know that there is help. Last year, Christian Services served nearly 2,000 free meals for Thanksgiving and another 900 for Christmas. Henson said she hopes to exceed those numbers this year and hopes that Christian Services will be able to impact people in more ways than with free food.
“We look to offer help beyond what you need right now,” Henson said. “Yeah, we’ll give you food, but we want to give you help that will last longer than food.”
For this, Christian Services relies on help from volunteers and other charitable organizations. The Salvation Army, for example, frequently works with Christian Services to help provide assistance to those in need.
Frances Nixon is the coordinator of the social work program with the Salvation Army in Hattiesburg, where she has been for more than ten years. The Salvation Army provides many of the same services as Christian Services, including food, utility, clothing and medication assistance. Much of Nixon’s work is focused on homeless clients that seek refuge in the Hattiesburg Center of Hope shelter, which offers over forty beds every night to those in need of an emergency shelter. The Salvation Army also operates a boys and girls after-school program.
“I’m not going to stop until I know that their needs are met,” Nixon said. “I’ve been on that side of the desk before as a single parent, so I can empathize with what they’re facing.”
The more donations and volunteers these organizations receive, the greater the impact they can have on Hattiesburg’s impoverished.
“We try to do the most good,” Nixon said. “When money is donated here, it is put to good use. It is not wasted. We are good stewards of what is donated to us.”
Henson said she realizes the importance of receiving assistance from the Hattiesburg community and hopes that more people will become aware and involved with their efforts.
“I think Christian Services is at a pivotal time where a lot of the support we’ve had has come from people who’ve grown up with Christian Services over the last 30 years, so our generation is not in that number,” Henson said. “I would love to see a surge of people our age and younger become aware of who we are and become long-term supporters.”
With more than 37 percent of Hattiesburg struggling with poverty, now is the perfect time to volunteer or donate. Getting involved this holiday season is just one phone call away.