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Communities Work to Stop Hunger
/ December 11, 2017
This story is from our November edition of Engage Magazine. 

“What efforts do we want to support in a sustainable way? What opportunity should we be exploring as a new way to combat hunger in our community?  Those are key questions Arkansas Community Foundation affiliates ask before every grant cycle of their Stop Hunger Funds.

When Aspire Arkansas data first came out in 2011, and before that in 2008 when an Arkansas Community Foundation Stop Hunger online initiative helped food charities during the recession, several of the 28 Arkansas Community Foundation affiliates determined that the fight against hunger would be one of their priorities.

Dick Freer, chair of the Craighead County Community Foundation Hunger Committee, said their goal is to build relationships where there is food insecurity, boost community support for the need and become a catalyst for making change.

Three Hunger Committee members went to the Student Council at Success Achievement Academy, a Jonesboro alternative school, to ask about hunger. “We got blank looks at first,” said Freer. “But the initial discussion got students thinking about their peers who were food insecure and eventually turned into a Food Race where students bring food to supply a food pantry on campus.”

“The Aspire Arkansas data was a catalyst for our stop hunger efforts,” said Freer. “It raised the level of awareness about the issue and identified hunger as one of the most pressing needs in our area. If we use our $8,000 to $9,000 a year in grant money to fund innovation, we can really make a difference.”

Many in Craighead County are realizing how much good could happen if fresh fruits and vegetables were more affordable to low income citizens. A physician on the committee came up with the idea that doctors could prescribe fruits and vegetables to low income patients so they could be reimbursed for the money they spend on these healthy foods.

The Craighead County affiliate has been instrumental in setting up the second Friends and Neighbors Network in Arkansas. A national FANN staff member from Atlanta trained volunteers to develop a community of people who are food insecure. These FANN members meet twice a month to unload and distribute healthy food that provides them an ongoing source of supplemental nutrition.

 “The Truck Patch, an organic food store in Jonesboro, has worked with our FANN,” said Charles Harris, FANN coordinator.  “Their generosity has added to the quality of food we can distribute.”

Some of their grants fund more traditional hunger programs. For instance, students in the Jonesboro Hispanic Center's after school program enjoy healthy snacks like a choice of peanut butter crackers or apples and milk courtesy of a Community Foundation grant. A review of food pantries receiving grants that ensured minorities were represented led to a connection with New St. John Missionary Baptist Church food pantry.

Jennifer McCracken, executive director of the Cross County Community Foundation, said most hunger-related grants are determined by their local advisory board. For every grant they are able to make in the fight against hunger, they get 20-25 applications. About 70 percent of their hunger-related grants go to food pantries and backpack programs. 

Their official Stop Hunger grants are awarded by the Youth Advisory Council. “It is good for youth to be a part of this,” she said. “The hunger grants give our young people a sense of making a difference where the need is great.”

Recently, the Cross County affiliate began working with a new nonprofit, 363 Feed the Need, led by Phoebe Curtis and Julie Boone. “We are tackling the problem of hunger through a backpack program and an event called The Table, where we served 400 plates of food to a diverse mix of people at an Interfaith event in Wynne,” Curtis said. “Lots of people help the hungry on Thanksgiving and Christmas. We want to help the other 363 days of the year.” 

The 363 backpack program started in January of 2016 with 34 students and now they are stocking 125 backpacks each Friday. The cost is about $150 per child for the school year. Volunteers, youth groups and others pack the food that goes home with students on Friday afternoons at Wynne Primary, Intermediate and Junior High. Soon, they’ll be scheduled to work with the local high school.

“Access to weekend food relieves stress about where the next meal will come from. It helps alleviate mental, physical and emotional stress,” said Curtis. “The Community Foundation here has made a big impact with grants to us and others who work to stop hunger. There is no way we would be able to do our work without them.”

Dana Stewart, executive director of the White County Community Foundation, said the affiliate has
been working on food insecurity programs for more than a decade. They have made grants to Beebe School District’s Badger Family Food Pantry and to senior programs like the Bald Knob Senior Center. “At Bald Knob like most rural programs, volunteers who run the center do the grant writing, cooking – they do everything,” Stewart said.

Because the White County affiliate knows ending hunger will be difficult, they made a grant to purchase shelving to help sustain the program rather than only purchasing food and promoting smart shopping training that shares tips like buying dried beans instead of canned to stretch the budget. 

“When we look at the Aspire data and other research, we see that hunger continues to be a real issue for our county,” Stewart said. “We may not have the numbers some other counties have, but in our local school district in Searcy, 40 percent of the students are on reduced or free meals. So this is not just a rural problem for us.”
A recent grant was made to Della’s Panty in a rural part of White County. Della Pantry volunteers told these stories:

“One of the things that strikes me the most is the percentage of our families who are older and are raising grandchildren. I would estimate that nearly 25 percent of all the families that visit our pantry are senior adults with at least one grandchild in their care. They live on a fixed income and struggle to provide for the children so they are resorting to visiting our pantry for help.”
“It’s sad how so many folks are struggling to get by right now. We see so many that are barely surviving. I’m glad we are here to help a little and give them someone to talk with. We try to find words of encouragement for them, but sometimes it’s hard to do when we hear of their situations.”
“A lady who has been battling cancer for several years came in today. Her daughter and grandchildren have just moved in with her and her teenage son. Her husband died of cancer about three years ago. She isn’t able to work, and with so many in the house to feed, she is coming to us for help.”

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