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Rooted in the spirit of service: Crop Drop unloads 25,000 pounds of sweet potatoes to families

The Crop Drop, an annual event hosted by Jackson State University and the Society of St. Andrews, donated 25, 000 pounds of sweet potatoes and other goods to the community on Saturday. Grant Broadway, a senior, and Mister JSU, 2019-2020, said that Jackson State University sets the precedent for students when it comes to service. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Addie Green, a native of Jackson, stopped by the 2019 Crop Drop and scooped up a bag of taters. "This is a remarkable event. It's well organized and a good turnout despite the heat," said Green, who is also running for state treasurer. "I think it's excellent that they are utilizing the students and showing them how to give back to the community." (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Nearly 25,000 pounds of sweet potatoes were distributed to a constant stream of vehicles Saturday, Aug. 17, at Jackson State University’s annual Crop Drop event, which provided free sweet potatoes to the community from 9 a.m. – noon.

“It’s part of our freshmen orientation week, and it’s allowing the students an opportunity to get their community service hours and meet our community,” said Heather Wilcox, director of community engagement at JSU. Transfer students are required to complete 60 community service hours while non-transfer students must finish 120 to graduate.

Terry Bennett (left), prevention specialist for Metro Jackson Community Prevention Coalition, and Heather Wilcox, director of community engagement at JSU, shared that they were ecstatic by the number of people and volunteers who showed up for the event. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

The potatoes are donated by the nonprofit Society of St. Andrew, participants in a gleaning grid throughout the state of Mississippi. “Gleaning is where you get access to crops that cannot be sold or the farmers are ready to plant their new crops,” explained Wilcox. “They typically will donate their produce, so they can get their farms ready for next season.”Unofficially known as the sweet potato capital, the bulk of the sweet potatoes are from Vardaman, Mississippi, said the director.

“I think it’s important for us to do this event because some are more fortunate than others,” said Terry Bennett, prevention specialist for Metro Jackson Community Prevention Coalition. “It’s always good to give to those who may need it.”

A new feature of the Crop Drop was a sweet potato pie contest and seasonings like barbecue sauce, ketchup and honey mustard, plus vegetables from the Blackburn Middle School Garden were also given away. Overall, the event provides JSU students an opportunity to interact with the neighborhoods surrounding the HBCU while being a valuable community resource.Delcina McGlothin displays her winnings from capturing first place in the sweet potatoe pie contest, a new feature of this year's Crop Drop. Deldarige Wolf took home  second place with Marcia Reed sliding into the third place spot. (Photo special to JSU)

According to Wilcox, nearly 3,000 people were supplied with 2,500 bags of sweet potatoes, and approximately 153 students volunteered their services.

Students like Shaundra Bennett, a freshmen political science major, spent the morning unboxing, unwrapping and “getting in where she fits in.” The Jackson native said she never passes up a chance to serve.

“This Crop Drop brings a number of people out here who are in need, and I am more than happy to assist in any way possible,” she said. “There are some people in this area who may feel that they have nowhere to turn, and being that Jackson State University is the heart of the community, it’s only right that we get out here and help our fellow man.”

Bennett said she is looking to work in the public sector with a concentration in law and government, but for now, “it’s initiatives like the Crop Drop that are my focus.”

From a student perspective, the freshmen said volunteering is prepping for the future. “There is never a time where you’re too young to help. As we grow and become older, we will see what our work has done to impact our fellow man. This is a great experience for young people and adults,” she said, adding that she loves oven-roasted sweet potatoes. “You don’t even need sugar, just add a little cinnamon and some butter, and you are good to go.”

The Rev. Kevin Kosh, campus minister at JSU, stressed the importance of student visibility. “Because a lot of times, there can be a disconnect between the college campus and the community. We might have book smarts, but if you don’t have a relationship with the people you serve, there will always be a disconnect,” said Kosh, who is also the director of the Wesley Foundation.

Shaundra Bennett, a freshman political science major, said she wants to work in the public sector and its events like the Crop Drop that help her gain experience. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Wanting to be an example of leadership and service, Grant Broadway, Mister Jackson State University 2019, said that it’s not about “sitting in your room expecting people to think you’re important.”The senior biology/prepharmacy major urged others to be the standard. “You have to set an example. JSU enables us as students to do that through events like this; serving the community. JSU sets the precedent, so we can continue to do it on our own and create a bigger impact.”

Another familiar face was Naysa Lynch, Miss Jackson State University 2019, who said she has been attending the event as a volunteer since 2016, her freshman year.

“It is my duty to help freshmen get acclimated to the way JSU does things around here,” said the senior, before admitting she is overwhelmed with emotion since it is her last Crop Drop as an undergraduate.

Naysa Lynch, Miss Jackson State University, and her mother, Monique Lynch Richards, are natives of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Richards said that community outreach events like the Crop Drop is one reason she is such a big advocate for JSU. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

A native of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Lynch confessed that as a youth she refused to eat vegetables, including sweet potatoes. However, the business marketing major said she now enjoys them due to her palate maturing over time. “We eat them in the Virgin Islands with our foods. We’ll eat sweet potatoes with dumplings and saltfish and things like that. That will be a meal to last you all day long.”Monique Lynch Richards, Naysa Lynch’s mother, was visiting from the U.S. Virgin Islands and came out to support her daughter and the university.

“I saw it on the school’s webpage a few years ago when she first started at JSU. I thought it was an awesome community service project. To be here is like a dream come true for me,” shared Richards.

The mom said she fell in love with the HBCU on the very first day she dropped her daughter off for school. “The staff, everyone whom I met was so accommodating and warm. I left with my heart full knowing she would be well taken care of. Seeing her blossom over the last couple of years, I am just so grateful to God for everything,” she gushed.

Richards agreed that Jackson State should continue to partner students with the community in the spirit of giving back and teamwork. It is one of the reasons she said the university has a permanent place in her heart.

“I just want to say that I’m really happy with Jackson State. I advocate back home for the school 24/7 because I’m really pleased with what I’ve seen and the experiences I’ve had,” said Richards. “I would like to really encourage any young child who has aspirations to better themselves in life; give Jackson State a try.”

The 2019 annual Crop Drop hosted by Jackson State University and the Society of St. Andrew brought out a plethora of volunteers like Kamoryn Jenkins, 11, (far left) who said she is not a fan of sweet potatoes, but she is a fan of Jackson State. William Powell, right) a junior civil engineering major, shared that is was his first time attending the event, but he is happy he did. "Community service is really fun because you can network and meet people that you never knew before," he said. (Photos by Franshell Fort, Charles A. Smith and Rachel James-Terry/JSU)

Students serve the community and have fun doing it at the 2019 Crop Drop held in the parking lot of Blackburn Middle School. Students (left) dance to the beats supplied by a DJ posted on site. James Kangar, (center), a senior business administration major, pauses from prepping bags for the sweet potatoes. A transfer student from Hinds Community College, Kangar said he loves that Jackson State makes sure students participate in community outreach. One student (right) stops to smile for the camera as she carries a box packed full of sweet potatoes. Photos by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

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