Churches open food pantry for under-served Newport area - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Churches open food pantry for under-served Newport area

NEWPORT, AR (KAIT) – More and more Arkansans go to bed each evening with a growling stomach.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released a study that found 20 percent of people in the state don't know where their next meal will come from.

In Jackson County the situation may be worse. The Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas lists Jackson County as one of the most under-served areas in the state for food assistance. A few churches, however, have come together to change that.

"There's been recognition that Jackson County has needed a food bank," said Brad Elrod, the minister of the First United Methodist Church in Newport. "There's been a lot of discussion for the four years I've been here about starting one, and [the idea] kind of got traction with the new Wal-Mart store opening up."

Elrod learned about a month ago that the new Wal-Mart store joined a national initiative to reduce waste by giving away food.

"Over the last few years, Wal-Mart corporately has noticed that we've let food go to waste," said Ronald Mergy, the manager of the Newport store. "One of the big things especially with the economy the way it is, there are a lot of people going hungry, so Wal-Mart corporately has challenged us to support local food banks with that food."

A representative from the Food Bank of NEA walked into Elrod's office one day to see if his church would be interested in accepting food from Wal-Mart each week and giving it away. After meeting with his own church members and reaching out to a few neighboring churches, a consensus was reached. They decided to turn an empty building behind the Umsted Memorial United Methodist Church in Newport as a food pantry serving the entire county.

"Tuckerman is fortunate enough to have a really active and very good food bank that does [serve] Tuckerman," Elrod said. "The rest of the county, there are some gaps that needed to be filled in, so it's good that we were able to step up and fill in that gap."

Volunteers began to hand out boxes of food from the Newport Regional Food Pantry for the first time last week and realized very quickly how much need there was in the community.

"Last Monday, we served 56 family units with a partial load out of the Wal-Mart store and then food we got from the Food Bank," Elrod said, "but today we did 96 family units."

The churches also want to make it easy for people to get the food they need, so the only requirement they need to pick up food is an address in Jackson County.

"We're trying not to put too many restrictions on who can get the food," Elrod said. "The assumption is if you show up, you're hungry. It's not our job to necessarily make the judgment call."

The Newport Regional Food Pantry will open every Monday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Umsted Memorial United Methodist Church, located at the corner of McLain and Pecan Streets in Newport.

Organizers say what they need now are more monetary donations and volunteers, so both are welcome. To find out how to get involved, contact the First United Methodist Church at 870-523-6561.

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