BY MARY GARRISON
Area nonprofit organizations are receiving a helping hand from some of Clay County's young citizens.
The Northeast Mississippi Youth Foundation (NEMYF), a subsidiary of the CREATE foundation, seeks to engage the state's youth in the greater 17-county region in philanthropic work -- cultivating leadership skills and fostering a passion for volunteerism and caring about one's community in junior and senior high-school students.
Each year NEMYF selects about 50 applicants to serve as board members representing the 17-county Northeast Mississippi region, according to the CREATE foundation website. Those participants work throughout the fiscal year to raise funds and identify nonprofit organizations throughout their region which make a difference in residents' lives and apply for grants on behalf of those groups.
This year, five NEMYF participants from Clay County -- Madison Childress, Mary Campbell Gray, Margaret Hay, Stephen Ross and John Willis Stevens -- served on the board and secured one of seven NEMYF grants totaling $462.71 for the Clay County Project Homestead Food Pantry. Members also secured a grant in the same amount for the Golden Triangle World Changers.
Throughout his two years serving on the board, Ross said he's come to realize that every little bit counts.
"You really get an appreciation for how lucky we are and what a valuable opportunity it is to serve others," Ross said. "... We visited several of the organizations, and you get to see first hand how you can help, and you realize it's never too small to make a difference."
And it most certainly does, according to Bill East, past vice president and present volunteer for the food pantry. East said Clay County's Project Homestead was the only one remaining in the state, and the food pantry initiative based from that had gone from serving 35 families with a bag of groceries every three months to serving more than 300 families each month.
"When the recession of 2008 began, the number of people needing food assistance exponentially expanded," East said. "That's when we began to concentrate on feeding the hungry in Clay County."
East said the food pantry was entrenched in the Mississippi Food Network as well as the Feeding America initiative, which allows the pantry to obtain free food in large quantities from companies such as Walmart, which also participates in the Feeding America network. Other food sources include school drives and local church congregations, he said. The pantry also accepts monetary donations from local organizations and individuals for additional food stock and supplies, such as bagging materials.
"We're strictly volunteer," East said. " ... No one receives any salary or compensation."
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