It can be said that our nation's prosperity is tied to the prosperity of our rural communities.This is especially true in Arkansas, where agriculture has always been a tradition and a big part of our economy. However, the irony of it all is that the same families who have spent centuries in rural Arkansas, producing food for thousands across the globe, now live in areas where food is most scarce. The numbers speak for themselves; so do the stories:
A man in his 20s in Van Buren County is unable to find work in an area where there are very few jobs, and those available are more concentrated in low-wage industries.
An elderly woman in Dumas dreamed she was standing in a large room and handing out food to people of all ages and races who were reaching their hands up to her. She awoke from the dream saying, "Help them all; help them all." Her husband woke up too and asked, "How can you help all of them when you don't have anything to help yourself?"
And in Eudora, a mother of two drove 15 miles to the nearest pantry, only to be turned away because they didn't have enough food to support anyone outside their area.
These are just some of the harsh realities that those in rural Arkansas face on a daily basis. And that's why the Foodbank has become more aggressive than ever in feeding Arkansas' underserved counties.
How has the Foodbank tackled underserved counties?
"With our local partners," said Dianne Williams, Chief Program Officer. "It's one thing to open a pantry, but it's another to open a pantry that's sustainable."
Thanks to the Walmart Foundation and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, the Foodbank's Local Partner Development Initiative took off in May 2012 with two primary strategies in place: distribute more pounds of food through current members, and help organize locally-driven hunger relief efforts that will be efficient and effective Foodbank partners for the long term.
At community meetings in schools, town halls, senior living centers and churches, the Foodbank helped facilitate discussions on how these areas would like to respond to hunger. Every community has the resources to address hunger, but finding how the pieces of the puzzle fit together is something the Foodbank worked to help figure out.
Once the discussion hit its stride, the Foodbank then provided guidance on what it takes to run a pantry. There's no hiding that pantries and soup kitchens are a lot of work. It takes a big commitment from volunteers. But what we've discovered is a willingness to come together and find a way.
In just one year, the Foodbank opened 10 new pantries in our three highest food insecure counties - Desha, Chicot and Bradley.