Little Rock has received a grant of nearly $140,000 that aims to mount a "full-court press" to feed more children in need.
The defensive basketball tactic in which members of a team cover their opponents the length of the court and not just near their own basket was the metaphor Caran Curry, the city's grants manager, used to describe how Little Rock plans to combat childhood hunger.
The $139,500 grant from the National League of Cities and the Food Research and Action Center will be used to expand Little Rock's after-school and summer meal programs. The city plans to partner with the Central Arkansas Library System to get food to children who go to the libraries for other services, including after-school tutoring and children's programs, meeting more kids where they already are throughout the city and throughout the year.
Federal programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program help provide food, but officials struggle to get parents and children to facilities where they can receive those meals, said Nate Coulter, director of the library system, at a Monday news conference.
"That's what this grant is about -- to find better ways to enhance and strengthen the delivery process so we can meet this need," Coulter said. "The schools are doing good work, we just need to go find the other kids who don't have access."
Little Rock was one of six cities selected to receive a grant through the National League of Cities' Cities Combating Hunger Through Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs (CHAMPS) initiative. The others were Allentown, Pa.; Durham, N.C.; Jackson, Miss.; Miami Gardens, Fla.; and Winston-Salem, N.C.
The program lead, Patrick Hain, said the cities selected were those the league thought could use the money to build on existing services and identify areas of the community that aren't being served.
"Little Rock already has a great program," Hain said. "The grant is to help the city and the partners push for more."
Little Rock could end up partnering with organizations in addition to the library system, he said, including businesses and departments within the city such as Parks and Recreation.
About 200,000 kids in the Little Rock School District are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch during the school year, said SiKia Brown, out-of-school programs director for the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, which along with the school district is a partner in the program. The need is widespread -- more than half the students at the majority of the schools in the district are eligible, according to Brown.
Statewide, roughly a quarter of children in Arkansas were living in households that were food insecure at some point during 2015 -- about 191,000 children -- according to data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Little Rock does not receive federal funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition programs, but several nonprofits that operate within the city do.
The number of Little Rock sites where children are fed through USDA-funded programs decreased from 99 to 32 between 2017 and 2018, according to information provided by the state Department of Human Services.
Any organization interested in becoming a feeding site should contact the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, Curry said. The Arkansas Advertising Federation also will work with the program to create campaigns to raise awareness of available resources for children in need.
"We do know that there are a lot of kids that are out there that are eligible that are not being fed in the summer," she said.
Information for this article was contributed by Jaime Dunaway of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Metro on 08/08/2018