August 16, 2010
On Friday, nearly 100 people visiting the Our Daily Bread (ODB) soup kitchen in Pascagoula took the opportunity to undergo free HIV and syphilis testing from the Mississippi Department of Health.
At the Pascagoula site, people who tested also could pick up backpacks filled with goodies including $10 Walmart gift certificates, shampoo, hand sanitizer, and insect repellant. The mobile unit was open from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Every day, ODB feeds up to 150 vulnerable and homeless people of all ages, said Mary Meldren, the group's coordinator, who helped publicize the testing event. A month in advance, Meldren posted notices about the free testing opportunity.
"I would like to know that I'm healthy so I can do the best to take care of myself and my family, and I want the same for my loved ones," said Ginger Knight, who brought her two daughters, granddaughter, and her boyfriend. While not homeless, Knight said the family is facing "very hard" times.
For the past three years, Jackson County has reported about 20 HIV cases a year, according to the health agency. However, the county reported 12 cases of syphilis in 2009, up from four in 2008. As of June 30, the department's mobile clinic unit has provided 2,761 tests.