BY JACLYN ROSE –
The State of Arkansas is tied with Mississippi for the hungriest state, with 19.2% of the population hungry. When the people are broken down, a startling 25% of the children in Arkansas are hungry. Located in Little Rock and founded 30 years ago, Arkansas Rice Depot is a faith-based organization working to change those numbers and help diminish hunger in the State of Arkansas.
On Wednesday, November 13, 2013, Brandie Johnston, Community Director for Arkansas Rice Depot, spoke to a captive audience made up of the Mena Lioness-Lions Club and many members of local businesses and organizations. She explained in detail what Rice Depot, along with their partners, do to help with child hunger in Arkansas. Food for Kids is a program that was started 20 years ago when a school nurse called the already established food bank and explained that she had children who she believed were having trouble learning and behaving simply because they were hungry. The Rice Depot started providing food to the children to take home on Friday afternoons. When the children were not responding to the sacks of food, they transferred the food to backpacks and the Food for Kids Backpack Program began. This program is now in 650 schools in Arkansas and is feeding 35,000 kids annually. Because of the success of the program it has now been replicated in almost every state in the United States and in several foreign countries.
The program is an expensive one that uses half of Rice Depot’s operating budget. The food that is distributed to the children must be “kid-friendly” so, in case of harsh home circumstances, the children could feed themselves. The results of the program are phenomenal with many children seeing an immediate improvement in their grades and their behavior. Last year in Arkansas, over 900 high school seniors graduated from the backpack program, and of those, 76% have gone on to either post-secondary education or to join the military.
The program reaches an average of 40 students per school and, because of other donations and low over-head, the backpack program can feed the entire school for $2,400 a year. The program does not just reach the school age children, but also will send additional food for non-school age children in the home. The goal of the Rice Depot is to partner with communities to help feed their children. Local churches, community groups, business or individuals are able to “Adopt a School” and provide the $2,400 support needed to provide food for that school for the school year. This is a completely anonymous program that will work with local coordinators within the school, with the principal’s permission, to make the once a week food donations to the children. The program is already established in Polk County, but because local schools have not been adopted at this time, they are not fully funded, and are unable to work to their capacity.
The Mena Area Board of Realtors is another local organization working to fight against hungry children in Polk County. The Realtor’s Backpack Committee, chaired by Marion Titsworth, began raising money four years ago to purchase food for area children. The food that is donated by the Board of Realtor’s helps supplement food contributed by The Rice Depot, and will continue to do so even after all the local schools have been adopted. Anyone interested in supporting the Realtor’s Backpack Committee please contact Titsworth at (479) 394-4010.
Several local organizations, businesses, churches and individuals have voiced interest in assisting Polk County in adopting local schools and the Lioness Organization is hoping that by bringing increased awareness, all the schools in Polk County will be adopted. A committee will be put together to work towards this goal. To learn more about Rice Depot, visit http://www.ricedepot.org. Any interested people please contact, Patty Young, President of the Mena Lioness Club at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (479)394-2211 ext. 131.