Area food pantries take steps to alleviate hunger

Adrienne Freeman Contributing Writer Published October 17, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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Adrienne Freeman / Contributing Photographer

The Newport Regional Food Bank is stocked weekly by the new Walmart Supercenter in Newport. The first week the foodbank was open, it fed 56 families, and the second week, 96 families.

This space is usually devoted to ideas on preparing delicious, nutritious meals for family and friends. But what about the 50 million Americans who have no food or are not sure where their next meal will come from? The second week in October was National Food Bank Week, a time set aside to recognize the hunger problem and promote awareness.

According to Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger relief charity (feedingamerica.org), there is more than enough food in this country to feed everyone, yet one in six people face hunger, and 70 billion pounds of food are wasted each year. Since 2006, the number of people seeking assistance from food banks run by Feeding America has risen 46 percent, largely as a result of the recession.

The pervasive problem is addressed in regional food banks and local food pantries in hundreds of communities across the state. In Garland County, the Community Services Office opens its doors to a food pantry twice a week to needy residents.

“Recipients need nothing more than a driver’s license or other identification that shows they are Garland County residents,” said Natasha Dooley, a CSO staff member. Periodic mass-commodity distributions are held when the center receives large donations, usually from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The center offers other services to at-risk families, such as energy assistance and counseling services.

In Conway, First United Methodist Church operates a food pantry for Faulkner County residents on the second and fourth Thursdays and Saturdays. Staffed by volunteers, food is distributed to anyone with identification verifying their Faulkner County residency.

The Newport Regional Food Pantry in Jackson County has only been in operation for two weeks, but spearhead Brad Elrod is proud of the community’s involvement, and the food bank’s success is easily measured.

“Our first week, we served 56 families, and the second week, 96,” said Elrod, minister at First United Methodist Church.

A brand-new Walmart Supercenter in Newport sparked the opening of the new pantry.

“Walmart is a partner with Feeding America, and they donate excess goods and food close to the expiration date to charity,” Elrod said. “They pull it from stock, freeze it, and we pick it up weekly. Walmart really likes their food donations to benefit the community where it is donated, and we are happy to be able to help these families in need.”

The effort is run by volunteers and benefited from Elrod’s experience in starting two similar centers in other stops along his ministerial trail. The Newport Regional Food Pantry mirrors others in only requiring identification that verifies recipients’ Jackson County residency.

The new pantry, located in the Umsted Memorial Methodist Church at the corner of McClain and Pecan streets, distributes food from 10 a.m to noon Mondays.

The website foodpantries.org is a great resource to find relief organizations in various areas of the state. Anyone who is in need, knows someone who is in need or has a few hours to donate to hunger relief is asked to spread the word. These worthwhile charities are helping to take a bite out of hunger.

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