PASS CHRISTIAN, Miss. — On an early, sunny morning, a fresh catch comes ashore.
“We deal with crabs, oysters, shrimp, fish,” said Jeremy Forte of Forte Seafood.
A new shrimp season just opened along Mississippi’s coast and Forte couldn’t be busier.
“It's always keeping you guessing, that's for sure,” he said.
However, this wasn’t necessarily the case during the pandemic. When restaurants shut down, it created a chain reaction affecting fishermen around the country.
“We're highly dependent on the restaurant sales,” said Ryan Bradley with Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United. “And, you know, certainly when you saw these massive shutdowns of the restaurant, it caused a lot of uncertainty, a lot of disruption to the supply chain.”
At the same time, down the coastal road from the harbor, soup kitchens and food pantries reeled from the economic strain of COVID-19.
“We’re having a 30 to 50 percent request increase in requests for food,” said Martha Allen of the food bank Extra Table. “Many people were first-time patrons of food pantries and soup kitchens.”
That’s when the harbor met the soup kitchen, brought together by the nonprofit Catch Together.
“What we realized is not just the food insecurity crisis was deepening in terms of the number of people they needed to serve, but also many of the sources of their traditional proteins was drying up because restaurants and restaurants were closed, which is one source, and then also a lot of supermarkets were just sold out,” said founder Paul Parker.
Through grants, Catch Together provided funding for food pantries and soup kitchens to buy fresh local seafood from fishermen in coastal communities around the country. That kept fishermen working and people in need fed, from Maine to Massachusetts to Florida to Mississippi to Alaska and beyond. Catch Together is now looking to expand the program, by seeking additional funding from state agencies and the USDA.
“It really gave fishermen an opportunity to participate in solving a problem, working together to solve a problem, that was really bigger than any one person,” Parker said.
Extra Table got $30,000 this year to help get fresh seafood into local food banks and soup.
“It's a beautiful partnership across the nation, quite literally,” Allen said. “If it weren't for catch together, we would have never been able to put two and two together.”
Back at the harbor, the catch keeps coming in and Jeremy Forte and other fishermen are glad to help.
“I'm willing to do whatever I can do to help the community out,” Forte said.
When it came to the help from Catch Together, it was a two-way street.
“There's been a real big boost,” Bradley said. “It was really a win-win opportunity.”
It’s an opportunity created on both land and the sea.