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story.lead_photo.caption A map showing Arkansas Foodbank 2nd location.

The Arkansas Foodbank received a city permit earlier this month for its roughly $4 million project that officials say will allow it to put more volunteers to work and get more food to people in need next year.

The 22,000-square-foot packaging and processing center is an addition to the food bank's location at 4301 W. 65th St. in Little Rock and is expected to be completed by summer 2020.

The added space will enable the food bank to "maximize and increase" its volunteer program, Chief Development Officer Sarah Riffle said.

The food bank merged with the Arkansas Rice Depot in 2016. Both organizations had robust volunteer programs.

"We saw a lot of growth in a short amount of time," Riffle said. "We realized very quickly that we would need more space."

So the food bank launched a public fundraising campaign to add more space in August 2018, after obtaining a $500,000 challenge grant from the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation in Tulsa.

The nonprofit raised an additional $1.6 million from public donations in the year that followed, and the food bank broke ground on the expansion in September.

Once it's complete, the food bank will increase the amount of food it provides, Riffle said.

The center distributed 27 million pounds in 2018 and expects to distribute about 29 million by the end of 2019. The goal is to reach 30 million pounds annually, as well as to increase the percentages of fresh produce packages distributed.

The food bank distributed 4.5 million pounds of fresh produce in 2018.

Food bank officials expect the expansion to increase the food bank's volunteer capacity from 11,000 people annually to 44,0000. The new center will hold close to 100 people at a time, allowing multiple distribution projects to take place at once, Riffle said.

The increased volunteer hours will save the food bank more than $800,000 a year, president and CEO Rhonda Sanders said when announcing the fundraising campaign's launch in 2018.

Kathy Webb, executive director of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance and Little Rock's Ward 3 representative, said the organization is excited about the food bank's expansion and the opportunities it will bring. The alliance is a coalition of about 450 member organizations, agencies and individuals around the state. That includes six food banks in the Feeding America network.

The Arkansas Foodbank is the largest member of the alliance, with local partners in 33 Arkansas counties that serve more than 280,000 people a year.

A 2016 U.S. Department of Agriculture study found that 17.5% of households in Arkansas surveyed between 2014 and 2016 had experienced food insecurity during that time.

Riffle encouraged people to come out to the food bank and volunteer, especially with the holiday season approaching.

"During the holiday season, people think about wanting to give back," she said. "So much of our culture is around food."

Metro on 10/20/2019

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