Northwest Arkansas' largest school districts want to make sure the region's youth don't go hungry this summer.
Free meals are being offered for those 18 and younger through a variety of school district meal programs, according to administrators. Youth don't have to attend the districts to receive the meals, administrators said.
"The pandemic has certainly increased the need for nutritional support for families. Research shows that one in five children are experiencing food insecurity right here" in Northwest Arkansas, said Margie Bowers, Rogers' child nutrition director.
Food insecurity refers to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's measure of lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.
Free summer meals are funded through a waiver by the Department of Agriculture, which allows districts to provide meals when they aren't in school through June 2022, said Ally Mrachek, Fayetteville child nutrition director. Meals are provided at no cost to the districts, administrators said.
Schools have become a means for connecting families with resources, Mrachek said.
"Even when school is out, the child nutrition program can still be that center point for resources for families just to provide consistent nutrition for students," she said. "They don't need to be nervous about where meals will come from during the summer months when they're not at school."
Arkansas' child food insecurity rate is estimated to have jumped from 23.2% prior to the pandemic to 32.3% in 2020, according to a July 2020 report by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. The nonprofit is an advocacy organization that encourages public policy to benefit children and their families.
Fayetteville will be offering weekly meal pack pickups for about 600 students per day from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays, starting Thursday and ending Aug. 5 at Fayetteville High School, Mrachek said.
Meal packs include food for seven breakfasts and lunches per child, she said.
"We feel like the meal pack has been a good option for a lot of families," Mrachek said. "Then they can pick and choose what they want to eat throughout the week."
Offering meal packs can also reduce transportation barriers for families, who don't have to coordinate daily trips to the school to pick up meals, she said.
Meals must be ordered in advance online or by phone prior to pickup, she said.
Mrachek said 42% of district students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, a common gauge of poverty in school districts.
The district will also be providing summer meal service to the Boys & Girls Club and the Yvonne Richardson Community Center through the district's Purple Dog Food Truck, she said. The meals are not open to the public, she said.
It's important for area youth to have a reliable source of food, said Tiffany Hoover, Fayetteville's assistant recreation superintendent. Many of the 50 youth per week served at the city's Yvonne Richardson Community Center depend on school lunches during the school year, she said.
Bentonville will be offering meal packs for the first time this summer, said Ariel Smith, food service marketing manager.
Meal packs featuring five breakfasts and five lunches can be picked up from 11 a.m. to noon Mondays, starting Monday and ending Aug. 9 at Bentonville and West high schools and at Osage Creek and Cooper elementary schools, according to the district website.
Hot meals also will be served Monday through Friday, starting Monday and ending July 30, Smith said. Breakfast will be served from 8 to 9 a.m. at Jones Elementary School. Lunch will be served from 11 a.m. to noon at Jones and the Bentonville Public Library, Smith said.
Students who receive the meal packs aren't eligible to receive hot meals as well, according to the district website.
Bentonville will be serving an average of 800 students per day during the summer, Smith said. Some 24% of district students qualify for free and reduced-price meals, she said.
Rogers will provide 3,000 hot meals per day Monday through Thursday, starting Monday and ending July 30, at six locations, Bowers said. Packaged meals for Fridays will be provided on Thursdays, she said.
"We transport breakfast and a hot lunch meal each day to all area locations," she said. "We are also providing the meals and snacks for the Rogers summer learning sessions in local schools, the Rogers Activity Center and the War Eagle day camps in Rogers and Springdale to relieve parents of the expense of providing a sack lunch for their child."
About 60% of Rogers students qualify for free and reduced-price meals, she said.
Springdale will be providing both cafeteria meals and packaged meals that can be picked up curbside at a variety of locations, said Gena Smith, child nutrition director.
Lunch will be served at Elmdale, Monitor and Parson Hills elementary schools at 11 a.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays from July 6 to Aug. 5, Smith said.
Meals featuring breakfast and lunch can also be picked up curbside on varying dates Monday through Aug. 5 at eight locations throughout the district, she said.
"Our goal is to feed students with the hope of lessening the impact of food insecurity on our families," Smith said.
Springdale will be serving about 2,500 students per day, Smith said. About 70% of district students qualify for free and reduced-price meals, Smith said.
Fort Smith estimates it will provide from 2,000 to 4,000 meals a week this summer, said Christina Williams, the district's public information coordinator.
"I couldn't be prouder of our district for providing summer meals to area students across Fort Smith," said Leigh Christian, child nutrition director.
The district is providing dine-in meals and grab-and-go meals Monday through Friday now through July 30, according to the district website. Meals won't be served July 5.
Breakfast is served from 7:45 a.m. to 9 a.m. and lunch is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 12 elementary schools, according to the website.
Grab-and-go meals featuring breakfast and lunch can be picked up at the same schools from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, according to the website.
"This program meets a need for children who otherwise might not have a hot meal, and we have seen families really enjoy taking part in the program," Christian said. "We hope more and more families will participate."
About 73% of district students qualify for free and reduced-price meals, said Zena Marshall, communications and community partnerships executive director.
Meal packs can be picked up from 11 a.m. to noon Mondays through Aug. 9 at these sites:
• Bentonville High School, 1801 S.E. J St.
• West High School, 1351 Gamble Road, Centerton
• Osage Creek Elementary School, 3001 S.W. Featherston Road
• Cooper Elementary School, 2 Blowing Spring Road, Bella Vista
Hot meals will be served from 11 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday through July 30 at these sites:
• Jones Elementary School, 500 S.E. 14th St.; 8-9 a.m. (breakfast); 11 a.m.-noon (lunch)
• Bentonville Public Library, 405 S. Main St.; 11 a.m.-noon (lunch)
Order weekly meal packs from Thursday to Aug. 5 at www.myschoolbucks.com or by calling (479) 305-0023.
Meals can be picked up Thursdays. All preorders must be made by noon Wednesdays.
Dine-in and grab-and-go meals are available Monday through Friday now through July 30 at the following locations:
• Ballman Elementary School, 2601 S. Q St.
• Barling Elementary School, 1400 D St. in Barling
• Beard Elementary School, 1600 Cavanaugh Road
• Fairview Elementary School, 2400 S. Dallas St.
• Howard Elementary School, 1301 N. Eighth St.
• Orr Elementary School, 3609 Phoenix Ave.
• Pike Elementary School, 4111 Park Ave.
• Spradling Elementary School, 4949 Spradling Ave.
• Sunnymede Elementary School: 4201 N. O St.
• Sutton Elementary School: 5001 Kelley Highway
• Tilles Elementary School, 815 N. 16th St.
• Trusty Elementary School, 3300 Harris Ave.
Meals can be picked up Monday through Thursday from Monday to July 30 at the following locations:
• Southwind Apartments, 2200 N. 12th St., 11 a.m.
• Olivewood Apartments, 1006 N. 31st St., 11 a.m.
• Double Tree Apartments, 601 W. Easy St., 11:15 a.m.
• Westbrook Apartments, 2300 W. Persimmon St., 11:15 a.m.
• New Tech High School, 2922 S. First St., noon.
• Meadow Park Apartments, 840 N. 16th St., 12:15 p.m.
Curbside meals include lunch and the next day’s breakfast.
• Central Junior High School, 2811 W. Huntsville Ave, Monday to June 24, 11 a.m.
• Sonora Middle School, 17051 U.S. 412 East, Monday to July 1, 11 a.m.
• Hellstern Middle School, 7771 Har-Ber Ave., Monday to Aug. 6, 11 a.m.
• Jones Elementary School, 900 S. Powell St., Monday to July 2, 11 a.m.
• Childers-Knapp Elementary School, 2634 Oriole St., Monday to June 16, 11 a.m.
• Turnbow Elementary School, 3390 Habberton Road, Tuesday to June 17, 11:30 a.m.
• George Elementary School, 2878 S. Powell St., July 6 to Aug. 6, 11 a.m.
• Tyson Elementary School, 1967 Chapman Ave., July 6 to Aug. 5, 11 a.m.