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OPINION | EDITORIAL: White Hall meals fill bellies, soothe souls

by The Pine Bluff Commercial | December 12, 2020 at 10:30 a.m.

It's easy a lot of times to see that there's a problem. Addressing it is another story.

In White Hall, the superintendent did both.

The district has a new weekend feeding program that the district just started in November.

Superintendent Doug Dorris went to Patsy Garner, the district's child nutrition director, and asked if the district could start feeding students on the weekend.

Said Garner at a recent White Hall School Board meeting: "He felt there was a need there. This was something the school district had never taken on before, but Mr. Dorris said there was a need. And you can tell by the numbers, there was a need."

The way it works is that the district prepares breakfast and lunch during the school day. And then during the week, the staff starts working on what will be handed out on Fridays, which is four meals for the weekend.

"It's tedious work," Garner said, "but they have done an awesome job."

Garner was obviously thrilled to be able to play a part in this. She said that, very quickly, parents expressed appreciation for what the district was doing.

"It makes things right now a little easier for them, and that just made my heart know that we're doing the right thing by stepping out and doing this," she said. "We're getting to feed these kids for free just like we are during the school week. We get to provide that."

The level of need these recipient families have is unknown, but the coronavirus pandemic has sidelined many people from their jobs, making economic survival a dicey proposition. For the White Hall district -- for Superintendent Dorris -- to know these students and families well enough to see that need and, without hesitation, jump to their aid says a lot about Dorris and his team and his school board.

In a short period of time, the district has provided 18,132 meals to students. That's a lot of youngsters whose hunger was satisfied and a lot of parents whose stress was relieved because their children were fed.

This, of course, is not just a White Hall problem. According to Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization, according to its website, one in six adults in the state struggles with hunger and one in four children struggles with this most basic need.

The site also stated that people in Arkansas facing hunger would need a collective $244 million in additional money per year to meet their hunger needs, at $2.77 per meal.

So in a very real way, White Hall is answering a distress call that is blaring all over the state. As Garner said, feeding students across the weekend isn't easy. Thankfully, that wasn't the deciding factor for Superintendent Dorris.

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