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story.lead_photo.caption Linda F. Smith, left, and Robin Freeman are the two lead coordinators for the Empty Bowl Community Resource Fair, set for Tuesday. The resource fair features more than 25 vendors with the aim of spreading knowledge and opportunities to those in need. The fair will take place at First United Methodist Church in downtown Benton. Food will be provided. ( Sam Pierce)

The main goal of the Empty Bowl Community Resource Fair is to provide a one-stop shop for low-income families to gain access to services, thus improving their quality of life, organizer Robin Freeman said.

“It is a great opportunity to reach more people in need,” Freeman said. “Our goal was to help nonprofits, businesses and government agencies to come together and be more effective in reaching low-income populations.”

Saline County Cares was organized in 2017 and, on Tuesday, will host the Community Resource Fair, beginning at 6 p.m. Free flu shots will be available at the Community Christian Care Clinic; then patrons will be bused by the Benton School District to First United Methodist Church in Benton for the fair.

“Dr. Skelton at Benton has been gracious enough to provide transportation,” Freeman said. “They can come for the flu shots, then get a ride to the church and have a chili dinner and access to the resource fair.

“We will have more than 25 vendors, including a number of different organizations that will provide resources, information and opportunities for them.

“The goal is to be able to connect one on one and ask questions, interact and put a face to a name.”

Benton School District Superintendent Mike Skelton said it is the belief of the school district to “search out ways in which we can give back to our community.”

“Many times, we seek out help from our stakeholders, and this is just one way that we can return the favor by helping those who are most in need,” Skelton said. “The Community Resource Fair, in conjunction with the Benton Cares Committee, will enable our community members to receive medical attention and care that they may not otherwise receive.

“The ability for our school district to help provide transportation for this event demonstrates our commitment to the well-being of our community and to our patrons.”

Ben Crismon, the senior pastor at FUMC in Benton, said Saline County Cares was born out of an effort to help those in the community who are struggling with the effects of poverty.

“Robin, Linda F. Smith and I sat down in conversation to see how we could help those who were homeless, underemployed or disabled,” Crismon said. “Even in a county that has some of the lowest numbers in the state for poverty issues, there are still many in our community who struggle with basic needs on a daily basis.”

Crismon said Saline County Cares is a way to better communicate between agencies within the community.

“It strives to make connections between those in need and those who can help,” he said.

“We are excited about this initial event, a partnership between multiple organizations to reach out to those in need and connect them with the help already available,” Crismon said.

Crimson will provide the food for the event, and Freeman has asked for a $25 donation from members of Saline County Cares or others to help offset the cost.

Freeman works for the University of Arkansas Center for the Utilization of Rehabilitation Resources for Education, Networking, Training and Service, or CURRENTS, in Hot Springs.

“We want to make the world more inclusive,” she said. “Our target population is individuals with disabilities, and basically, we provide training to organizations that help people with disabilities, who often have a fixed or low income.

“Our world is built with people who don’t have disabilities, so we want to educate and make our world more accessible for people who do.”

Smith works for the Central Arkansas Development Council in Saline County.

“On that night, we are going to have a lot of agencies and nonprofits bring resources and talk about what they offer,” she said. “It is going to be more like a working, in-your-face ministry. We are hoping for at least 100 people to show up, but I think Ben planned for 250.”

“People may have questions, and they need to be able to talk one on one, to make it a less intimidating process,” Freeman said. “When asking for help, usually everyone looks like a business professional, so this, hopefully, allows people to make a connection with those who are in need — so they can see they are just like them and want to help them along the way.”

Freeman said there will be a variety of resources at the fair, including the Department of Human Resources; the Churches Join Council on Human Needs, or CJCOHN; the Federal TRiO program; and various food pantries.

“Even if you aren’t in a disadvantaged situation, you may know someone who could benefit from the services,” Freeman said. “We can be better neighbors to people who are in need because we can educate ourselves and become more aware of what is available.”

Freeman said she encourages people to get involved with Saline County Cares.

“We are trying to build a database of other organizations, to pool their resources with ours,” she said. “We want to help individuals in Saline County become successful.”

For more information or to volunteer, contact Smith at or (501) 778-1133, or email Freeman at

“We strongly support the vision of Saline County Cares and speak with one voice to help impoverished families become successful,” Freeman said.

“We quickly realized that our community wanted to help end the cycle of poverty and allow all to thrive, instead of simply survive,” Crismon said. “This was true from churches, nonprofits, local businesses and government agencies.

“There was help being offered from so many places, but often it was disconnected, and there were gaps and overlaps in the assistance provided.”

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or


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