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Gr8 Acts of Kindness winner steps up to help families during the pandemic

Updated: May. 26, 2021 at 11:02 PM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - Elizabeth, or “Liz” Ivener, loves a challenge.

As the operations manager for the Helping Neighbors Food Pantry, Ivener was hard-pressed to find a way to keep the doors open at the onset of the pandemic.

A growing need for food within Jonesboro was ever-present.

On June 10, 2020, cars lined up for as far as the eye could see outside the food pantry.

Some people waiting for the food had arrived as early as 5 a.m.

“When I tell you it’s been wrapped around for probably four blocks on both sides, " Maleigha Cook, a 4-H agent and volunteer said. " That’s not an exaggeration.”

The effects of COVID-19 were beginning to show. Infections and a loss of jobs. Families were struggling. The pantry, which normally serves 800 families a month, was stretched to cover growing needs in the community.

She took it upon herself to keep it open and she had some volunteers,” Carol Hinck, Helping Neighbors Food Pantry volunteer, said.

When Ivener lost senior volunteers, she reached out to area students and community organizations.

That’s because, during the pandemic, her most faithful volunteers found themselves vulnerable.

“We all stayed home and she was actually able to get some students to help because they weren’t going to school and she figured out that she could have food taken out to (people in need) instead of them coming in and waiting like they usually do,” Hinck said.

And supply chain issues were great; but the need here was even greater.

“You know she found a way for us to give food out,” Sue Furnatter, Helping Neighbors Food Pantry Volunteer. “A lot of the other places were closed. She found a way for us to wait on the customers and take care of the community.”

Now that all of Ivener’s volunteers are vaccinated, they gathered together for one big surprise and invited us along.

“Surprise!”

Ivener looks on at the crowd with wide eyes.

“Liz Ivener, we knew you would be here today,” I said. “You are here most days.”

“In fact, you spent 130 to 150 hours a month, I believe, right here, keeping this going, and people during the pandemic would line up car after car after car,” I said. “That’s because they knew that this was their only means of being able to feed their families.”

“You are the next winner in the Gr8 Acts of Kindness!” I explained.

Ivener's volunteers put together quite the surprise for her upon hearing that she had been...
Ivener's volunteers put together quite the surprise for her upon hearing that she had been selected to receive the Gr8 Acts of Kindness.(Source: KAIT-TV)

“Thank you, thank you,” Ivener said.

“Two hundred, three hundred, five, six, seven, eight,” I said as I counted the $408 given to Gr8 Acts of Kindness winners from First Community Bank and KAIT.

“Congratulations for your caring, and given spirit as people live like this community is such a great place for us to all live on behalf of First Community Bank it’s our honor to recognize you as this month as our Gr8 Acts of Kindness winner,” Allen Williams, Community President, First Community Bank said.

Ivener already has plans for the $408.

“We’ve been here since 1995 or the pantry has. It’s an old building. I had to vacuum up water because we have leaks everywhere this morning,” Ivener said.

Her goal: to find a new building that will grow with the community’s needs.

“This matters,” Ivener said. “I believe in the mission.”

Her volunteers see first-hand how Ivener works here and at home writing grants to get supplies and equipment...all the while adhering to rigorous standards.

“See the temperature chart there,” Ivener said. “where we take temps twice a week.”

Ivener has worked in several hospitals as a clinical dietitian.

She has also taught future dieticians at UCA and Arkansas State.

Her knowledge of food safety ensures that those in need receive the most nutritious, fresh foods possible.

“I had a lot of people who encouraged me to get a good education and gave me scholarships--so this is my payback,” Ivener said.

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