ACE provides helping hand for community

By Lisa Burnett Originally Published June 6, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated June 5, 2013 at 11:26 a.m.
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Nick Hillemann

Sarah Robbins stocks canned food in the All Created Equal (ACE) food pantry in Hot Springs. ACE is located at Lakeside High School and provides canned goods, fruits and vegetables, as well as household necessities to members of the community. It is run by volunteers and students and takes donations daily.

— The ACE program that Sarah Robbins helped establish to assist high school students is addressing problems that are much larger than she had ever realized.

She and two other women involved with Lakeside High School in Hot Springs started ACE, All Created Equal, in 2009. Robbins was the president of the Parent Teacher Organization when the program started.

“[Before ACE started], I sent out an email saying ‘This is who I am. If the teachers need anything from the Parent Teacher Organization, call me,’” Robbins said.

One of the counselors at Lakeside High School began calling Robbins almost immediately.

“One of the kids at the school had a blown out flip-flop and had no other shoes to wear,” Robbins said.

Calls started flowing in to Robbins from school representatives telling her about students who had no sandals or no winter coats and no other shoes to wear when the weather got cooler.

‘It just started with that,” Robbins said. “I realized there are so many more needy people than we could have ever dreamed of.”

Robbins said the need became more than just gathering clothes for students.

“We realized there were kids who were technically homeless because they had moved away from their parents and were staying at friends’ houses,” Robbins said.

That same year, Robbins said the students at Lakeside began having food drives and gathering canned goods with pop-tops to give to homeless students.

“There got to be so many calls, we needed something formal, and the school gave us a building,” Robbins said. “It’s been a steady food pantry ever since then.”

ACE is focused on Lakeside students and their families.

Robbins said she runs the food bank primarily solo these days, but has friends and volunteers who help.

Recognizing the need for a food bank in the area was the first step, Robbins said.

“I’ve been able to help [these people] and realized there’s a lot of poor and working poor,” Robbins said.

Although Robbins has no counseling experience, she tries to comfort those who come to get food from the ACE food bank.

“I try to make them feel better for the circumstances they’re in,” Robbins said. “I try to be a smiling face when they come in [to the food bank].”

Robbins opens the building from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Thursday for families to pick up food.

“I send out a text at the first of the week, and they text back their last name,” Robbins said. “That way, I know how much food to bag up on Wednesdays.”

With the food bank close to the school, Robbins said students assist her with unloading groceries and taking them into the building.

“My car is loaded from top to bottom with food. It’s a huge load to carry in,” Robbins said. “There’s a special-needs class that helps me unload my car, and it helps them, too, because they learn to stock shelves.”

Every item in the ACE pantry is donated or was bought with donated money, Robbins said.

“Different clubs [at Lakeside High School] have had food drives and competitions to help stock the pantry,” Robbins said. “Clothing comes from people within the community.”

With such a great need in the Hot Springs area, Robbins said between 22 and 30 families come to get food during the week.

“The food bank is getting better every year, and we have a little motto: This service is a ‘hand up, not a hand out,’” Robbins said.

For more information about the ACE program, call (501) 693-5154.

Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

Online Reporter Lisa Burnett can be reached at 501-378-3887 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

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