JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) -- Hundreds of thousands of Arkansans have a tough time paying for food. 345,000 elderly people will have to choose between medicine or food, and 40% of Arkansans at risk of going hungry are children.
That's why KAIT, the Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas and BancorpSouth are sponsoring a community wide canned food drive, called the Spirit of Giving.
"The Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas serves the 12 counties of northeast Arkansas. We have 84 agencies that come to us. We act as the distribution warehouse and they take the food back to the individuals in their counties to make sure they are taken care of," said Vicki Pillow of the Food Bank of NEA.
According to the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, Arkansas has the 3rd highest incidence of hunger in the nation, and many people aren't aware of it. 17% of Arkansans are below the poverty line, accounting for one in six people. The childhood poverty rate is 24.3%. All of these numbers are higher than national averages.
"The economy is affecting us. We are down about 123,000 pounds from this time last year. That's a lot of food. It's just as much as it sounds like. We have people who used to donate canned goods to us that are showing up needing emergency food assistance, so it's a totally different story this year," said Pillow.
"We actually have middle class people who have never before been to a food agency, who are facing hard times and who are actually coming to us and needing assistance."
"We get wrapped up in our own everyday lives... but sometimes something can happen, an unexpected or unforseen event, and all of a sudden a family that might be doing okay, finds themselves not doing so okay," said Caryl Steele with BancorpSouth.
Local food pantries are also having difficulties meeting high demand. Economic conditions are forcing many people, who have donated previously, to request food themselves. More people are also not able to donate these days, especially with the coming Christmas holiday.
Officials with the Food Bank of NEA said hunger is a major problem in Arkansas, and most people don't know it because it's hard to detect. Hunger isn't as obvious as other health problems.
Food donations may be made at any of the BancorpSouth locations until December 19. Scroll down to see the list of locations.
"I think anything that is nutritious that you would like to eat would make for a perfect donation. Non-perishable food items are very important; peanut butter, pasta, tuna fish, stews, chili, soups, anything. I've always been impressed with how generous everybody has been," said Steele.
If you are needing emergency food assistance, call the Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas at 932-3663.
"They can go to the agencies in their local area. They can call us and we'll refer them to the agencies, but they need to call us just to find out where they need to go," said Pillow.
For more information about hunger in Arkansas, click here.
"I think now more than ever, if you can be generous and think of others during this season, this is a perfect way to show that generosity. Any canned goods that are donated will be used to help the people in those communities," said Steele.
700 South Main St
2201 Fair Park Blvd
1901 West Parker Rd
5902 East Johnson Ave
1833 Linwood Dr
1906 Highway 49 North
4507 West Kingshighway
11525 Highway 49 North
1411 Highway 67 South
749 West Keiser
55 Park Ave
601 Main St