Group ef­fort

North­west Arkansas or­ga­ni­za­tions work to­gether to stem hunger.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - BRENDA BERNET

Hunger re­lief in North­west Arkansas in­volves more than the work of one in­di­vid­ual, non­profit group or cor­po­ra­tion. It takes many parts pulling to­gether for a com­mon goal.

Take Jessica McClard, a mar­ried mother of two who started the Lit­tle Free Pantry a lit­tle more than a year ago in Fayet­teville. She was in­spired by the idea the lit­tle free li­brary in her neigh­bor­hood seemed to carve out space to con­nect neigh­bors while also pro­mot­ing lit­er­acy. McClard thought the con­cept could be used in an­other way.

The Lit­tle Free Pantry, in­stalled at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, al­lows any­one to leave canned car­rots, peaches, tuna and boxes of pasta for oth­ers to take as needed. The idea has spread to other com­mu­ni­ties, where in­di­vid­u­als and or­ga­ni­za­tions

in­de­pen­dently have put up a “Bless­ing Box,” a “Com­mu­nity Food Box” and a “Red Door Pantry.”

In steps Tyson Foods. The com­pany re­cently named McClard a Tyson Foods Meals that Mat­ter Hunger Hero and awarded her $10,000 of non­per­ish­able stock for the pantry and $40,000 for the de­vel­op­ment of a web­site to map lit­tle pantries pop­ping up in the re­gion and else­where.

“There is some con­ver­sa­tion about whether or not char­ity or non­profit church work can take care of peo­ple on their own. Ab­so­lutely not,” McClard said. “It’s go­ing to take all of us.”

The na­tion’s 42.2 mil­lion peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­enced hunger in 2015 in­cluded 67,500 res­i­dents in Ben­ton, Carroll, Madi­son and Wash­ing­ton coun­ties, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates from Feed­ing Amer­ica.

McClard made sure she got her tick­ets early to see a na­tional tour­ing ex­hibit on the Fayet­teville Square through Wed­nes­day. It moves to the Clin­ton School of Pub­lic Ser­vice from Satur­day through July 31.

The ex­hibit, “This is Hunger,” is spon­sored by MA­ZON: A Jewish Re­sponse to Hunger and is in town dur­ing the Na­tive Youth in Food and Agri­cul­ture Sum­mer Lead­er­ship Sum­mit. The sum­mit was or­ga­nized by the In­dige­nous Food and Agri­cul­ture Ini­tia­tive at the University of Arkansas School of Law. MA­ZON is a na­tional ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion with a goal of end­ing hunger among all peo­ple in the United States and Is­rael.

Lead­ers of MA­ZON and Janie Simms Hipp, direc­tor of the university ini­tia­tive, have worked to­gether for a few years be­cause of a shared in­ter­est in the prob­lem of hunger, she said. Hipp’s pro­gram is con­cerned with food pol­icy and food ac­cess, par­tic­u­larly for the 567 fed­er­ally rec­og­nized Amer­i­can In­dian tribes, Alaska na­tives and Hawai­ian na­tives in the United States. MA­ZON of­fi­cials of­fered to bring the tour here as part of the sum­mit.

The ex­hibit presents a 45-minute pro­gram of por­traits of dozens of Amer­i­cans who share their sto­ries of strug­gling with hunger.

HUNGER IN NORTH­WEST ARKANSAS

Feed­ing Amer­ica es­ti­mated 18.4 per­cent of Arkansas res­i­dents lacked enough food in 2015. Lo­cal es­ti­mates were: Wash­ing­ton County, 15.3 per­cent; Madi­son County, 15.2 per­cent; Carroll County, 13.5 per­cent; and Ben­ton County, 11.9 per­cent.

Feed­ing Amer­ica is a na­tion­wide non­profit net­work of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries.

Mary Mann, Sa­mar­i­tan Com­mu­nity Cen­ter spokes­woman, said the cen­ter’s cafes in Spring­dale and Rogers draw dif­fer­ent de­mo­graph­ics.

In Spring­dale, vis­i­tors to the cafe, food mar­ket and shops in­clude gen­er­a­tions of fam­i­lies who are in poverty.

In Rogers, Sa­mar­i­tan Com­mu­nity Cen­ter pro­grams tend to draw older res­i­dents living on fixed in­comes and the work­ing poor, she said.

So­cial work­ers on staff work with fam­i­lies, Mann said. If a par­ent who ap­pears able to work comes to the mar­ket re­peat­edly, the staff will review the client file. If a per­son has been out of work for six months and ap­pears to have trou­ble find­ing a job, the per­son is re­ferred to a so­cial worker for help.

“We’re there to con­stantly take care of those who fall through the cracks,” Mann said. “Many are chil­dren.”

Mann was raised by par­ents who be­lieved in work­ing hard, but she now rec­og­nizes that some fam­i­lies have a dif­fer­ent at­ti­tude and can be re­signed to living a cer­tain way, she said. They may be hurt or dis­abled and can’t think of a way out, she said.

“We feel we are called to be hope to many peo­ple,” she said.

MEET­ING THE NEED

Cor­po­ra­tions and in­di­vid­u­als have re­sponded to the need for food.

Ar­vest Bank last month con­cluded its an­nual 1 Mil­lion Meals cam­paign against hunger in Arkansas, Kansas, Mis­souri and Ok­la­homa. Do­na­tions from the bank, em­ploy­ees, cus­tomers and com­mu­nity mem­bers yielded 1.88 mil­lion meals, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany. The cam­paign gen­er­ated 814,428 meals for 29 or­ga­ni­za­tions in North­west Arkansas and the Fort Smith area.

Re­cip­i­ents have posted their checks from the cam­paign on so­cial me­dia for the past few weeks.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and its foun­da­tion gave $1.6 mil­lion from Feb. 1, 2016, to Jan. 31 to hunger re­lief or­ga­ni­za­tions in North­west Arkansas, spokesman Aaron Mullins said. Wal­mart stores also do­nated more than 4 mil­lion pounds of food lo­cally.

The com­pany and foun­da­tion are work­ing to­ward greater ac­cess to hunger re­lief and health eat­ing ser­vices, he said. The com­pany is in­ter­ested in pro­grams that sys­tem­at­i­cally con­nect peo­ple to healthy food and in en­cour­ag­ing non­profit groups to work to­gether to meet the re­gion’s long-term needs.

“Wal-Mart and the Wal­mart Foun­da­tion has a long-stand­ing com­mit­ment to hunger re­lief and a ded­i­ca­tion to ensuring ev­ery fam­ily in North­west Arkansas has ac­cess to af­ford­able, health­ier and sus­tain­ably grown food,” Erin Hogue, se­nior man­ager for North­west Arkansas giv­ing, said in a state­ment pro­vided by Mullins. “We are com­mit­ted to us­ing our strengths as a re­tailer to make a real dif­fer­ence for fam­i­lies who are strug­gling with hunger.”

The com­pany works closely with the North­west Arkansas Food Bank, as does Tyson Foods. Tyson gave 1.3 mil­lion pounds of protein with a value of $1.8 mil­lion to the food bank from Oc­to­ber through June, com­pany spokesman Derek Burleson said.

The com­pany has named four peo­ple since Jan­uary 2016 as Tyson Foods Meals that Mat­ter Hunger He­roes, in­clud­ing McClard. The com­pany has pledged to in­vest $50 mil­lion in cash and do­na­tions by 2020 to fight hunger.

McClard has watched her pantry idea grow to four lo­ca­tions in Fayet­teville and at ru­ral Wash­ing­ton County high schools. Seven pantries are in Spring­dale, two in Rogers and a few in Ben­tonville, McClard said.

She was al­ready in­volved in a women’s or­ga­ni­za­tion for help­ing neigh­bors, had an in­ter­est in so­cial jus­tice and poverty, and was struck by the hunger sta­tis­tics for North­west Arkansas.

“It’s such a nice place to live,” she said. “There is a lot of hid­den need here.”

She keeps an eye on the pantry at Good Shepherd, but the oth­ers are man­aged in­de­pen­dently.

A NA­TIONAL IS­SUE

The na­tional hunger rate was 13.4 per­cent in 2015, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates from Feed­ing Amer­ica. Of those, 55 per­cent would qual­ify for the fed­eral Sup­ple­men­tal Nutrition As­sis­tance Pro­gram, for­merly food stamps.

About 18 per­cent of those house­holds earn from 130 per­cent to 185 per­cent above the fed­eral poverty guide­line, and 26 per­cent of house­holds lack­ing enough food earned an in­come at 185 per­cent or more above the poverty guide­line.

Hipp said her in­ter­est in the is­sue stems from the high rates of hunger in tribal com­mu­ni­ties. Most are in “food deserts” be­cause they do not have gro­cery or con­ve­nience stores within a 10- to 20-mile ra­dius, she said. Tribes are fo­cus­ing more at­ten­tion on ac­cess to food and eat­ing healthy, she said.

Their fo­cus ap­plies to all com­mu­ni­ties, Hipp said.

“Ev­ery com­mu­nity needs to grap­ple with these is­sues,” Hipp said. “If we are not feed­ing each other, who are we?”

Some fam­i­lies who lack enough food do not qual­ify for fed­eral as­sis­tance, ac­cord­ing to Feed­ing Amer­ica. Rea­sons fam­i­lies ex­pe­ri­ence hunger in­clude poverty, un­em­ploy­ment and a lack of hous­ing. Feed­ing Amer­ica sup­ports char­i­ties and gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance pro­grams, ac­cord­ing to its web­site.

Ev­ery com­mu­nity in­cludes res­i­dents who are dis­abled or home-bound, chil­dren and work­ing adults who don’t earn enough to feed their fam­i­lies, Hipp said. She is con­cerned about pro­posed cuts to fed­eral feed­ing pro­grams at a time when sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of peo­ple still need that help, she said. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has pro­posed cuts to food stamps.

“We’re al­ways go­ing to need and have needed a fed­eral gov­ern­ment ap­proach to hav­ing a com­pre­hen­sive pol­icy for help­ing the coun­try feed it­self,” she said.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/J.T. WAM­PLER

A group of stu­dents looks at an ex­hibit on hunger Satur­day at the Fayet­teville Farm­ers’ Mar­ket. The ex­hibit is from MA­ZON, a na­tional ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion in­spired by Jewish val­ues and ideals that is work­ing to end hunger across the United States and Is­rael. The ex­hibit is housed in­side a 53-foot-long big rig and is de­signed as a 45-minute ex­pe­ri­ence for 30 guests at a time. The ex­hibit will be at the Fayet­teville square through Wed­nes­day. Vis­i­tors need to make a reser­va­tion through the web­site thi­sishunger.org.

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