The Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas was recently awarded a $1,000 grant to support the backpack program in the Forest City School District.
Director of Development for the Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas Vicki Pillow said there is a huge need in Northeast Arkansas.
Pillow said they serve 5,000 people at risk of hunger every week.
About 830 of those are children in the backpack program.
She said they’ve recently started a new program that should provide them with some much-needed help.
“We work in collaboration with lots of partners,” Pillow said. “We’ve started a new model with the backpack program where churches, civic organizations, and businesses have stepped forward to help support the backpack program.”
Pillow said that while 830 children is a big number, there are plenty more out there waiting to get on the program.
Before adding a child to the program, they make sure they have enough funding to permanently sustain the child until there is no longer a need.
Pillow said people would be surprised how much help just one dollar is.
“Every dollar that’s donated to the Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas can provide five meals for individuals at risk of hunger,” Pillow said. “So, your dollar goes a long way.”
Pillow said the stories they hear from children in need are heartbreaking.
“We had a story about a child that went to school on a snow day,” Pillow said. “He didn’t realize it was a snow day and that child got to school. The custodian was there and said hey it’s a snow day, you get to go home. And the child said 'what am I going to do about lunch?' You know, a snow day which is fun for most kids in Northeast Arkansas, there are children who worry about their meals.”
Pillow said people need to know the backpack program works.
“We do a survey at the end of the year to see how the program has helped them,” Pillow said. “One little boy on the survey said it helped him survive and have food to eat. That child was in second grade. It just stunned me that he knew what the word survive meant.”
Pillow also said the program still has a long way to go.
Arkansas ranks second in the country for food insecurity.
“The solution to hunger in Arkansas is everybody working together,” Pillow said. “People need to do as much as they can to make sure that every family has a meal when they need it. I know that’s such an unbelievable thing for most people to understand because most people don’t have to worry about that. But if you can imagine going home and looking at your kids tonight and thinking what would it be like if I looked in the cabinets and I had no food. And what would I do if I didn’t know how to help my kids.”
She said the main concern right now, though, is what students do when it is summer.
“The backpack program is vital during the school year,” Pillow said. “That’s why the summer programs that are around are vital to make sure they go through their summer with food. And we do work indirectly with those programs. Those are not direct programs of the food bank, but they are out there to make sure there’s food available for kids.”
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