Churches open food pantry for under-served Newport area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Last Monday, we served 56 family units with a partial loadout 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 thefood they need, so the only requirement they need to pick up food is an addressin Jackson County.

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

The Newport Regional Food Pantry will open every Monday from10 a.m. to noon at the Umsted Memorial United Methodist Church, located at thecorner of McLain and Pecan Streets in Newport.

Organizers say what they need now are more monetarydonations 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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