Feeding the hungry

By NIKKI SMITH,

A life of service. That is what Joann Parden dedicated herself to nine years ago when she began working for the Petal Children’s Task Force.

“She stepped in and took over after someone else left,” said director of the task force Demaris Lee.

“And I’ve been here ever since,” Parden added.

Parden has officially retired as of the beginning of August. However, she plans to still be around as the task force needs her in the future.

“We’ll try not to call on her too much,” said Lee with a laugh.

She began working at the task force while it was still housed at the Center for Families and Children and aided in the move to the building where it sits today, just down the street from the old location.

This December will make six years since the Petal Children’s Task Force was moved into its own building.

Parden is retiring due to health reasons. However, she said she will miss her coworkers and all of the people she said she has been fortunate to meet over the years.

“I felt like it was time to turn it over to someone younger,” she said with a laugh.

If you ask Parden about her years at the task force, she will tell you what stands out to her the most over the years are the people that she has met.

“People will come in and some will start crying and Joann just loves on them,” Lee said. “It makes it easier for them to go on.”

“We just cry and pray together,” Parden added.

Parden recalled a time when a woman came in needing help after her husband had just been diagnosed with cancer.

“We cried together and prayed,” she said. “I always offer a hug. I always need them too.”

The task force gives out food boxes during the holidays and collects money and toys to distribute for Christmas. Throughout the year there is always something going on at the task force.

However, Parden said her favorite time of year to work there has always been Thanksgiving.

“Because you just know that they appreciate it,” she said.

Ensuring that others have a good holiday brings a smile to her face.

“Once a woman came in with tears in her eyes needing a food box,” she said. “She said she knew that it was not time for her to get another, but that she had eaten green beans for breakfast because that’s all that she had.”

Parden consoled her and promptly made her a food box to take home.

“I don’t want anyone to go hungry,” she said.

The job with the task force has been an eye-opener for Parden.

“Most people don’t realize that there are that many people in need in the Petal area,” she said. “It really makes you count your blessings. I’ve met some of the most wonderful people.”

Parden said that more than 300 people stop by the task force each month for food boxes.

“There’s a real need here,” she said.

Parden beams with pride as she gestures to the bulletin board in the task force lobby, which is covered with thank you notes of those who have returned to donate to the task force after receiving help themselves.

“One person came back with a dollar in quarters to thank us for the food box she received and to offer what help she could,” Parden said.

Parden said she is looking forward to sleeping in, spending time with her sister and crafting. She dedicated a room in her home to crafting and looks forward to putting together a scrapbook of photographs of her grandson, Jasen, who was killed in an accident.

She said she also looks forward to spending time with her fur baby, Bubba, who is 15 years old.