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Mena Arkansas News covering Polk County and the surrounding area

Volunteers pack 16,000 meals

Article and photos by Ethan Nahté

Polk County Arkansas 4-H and Mena FFA partnered with the Mena Lioness Lions Club and Rotary Club of Polk County/Mena for a “Feed the Funnel” Pack Shack event on Thursday, Aug. 10. Their goal was to pack over 17,575 meals in a 4-hour period for the backpack for each of the school districts within Polk County. Although they fell short, a mind-blowing 16,000 meals were packed.

The event took place in the UAEX education building with volunteers signing up and taking shifts. Approximately 80-100 volunteers were working at any given time, with assembly line stations taking up several tables as people funneled various types of rice and other healthy, natural items into plastic bags that were then sealed, or carrying 50-pound bags from table to table to refill ingredients, to sealing boxes or taking out the trash. Volunteers were mostly school-age children and parents, along with some that ranged from preschool to grandparents.
Every time they reach an additional 1,000 meals packed, there is a gong that is struck to announce the milestone.

Shanea Floyd is quite involved with the BackPack program. She said, “I am in three different areas of this. I have a 4-H student, and FFA student, I’m on the Mena FFA alumni, and then also I am part of the Mena Lioness Lions.

“We’ve got about six different entities to help us. The overall project is that our FFA kids are going to be taking this to the state convention. It’s called FFS for FFA — it’s food, fiber and shelter. It’s going to be their community service event for the state convention, then hopefully they can carry on to the national convention event in Indiana.”
Floyd said the packed meals will remain in Polk County, the backpacks going to children in grades K-12 in all three Polk County school districts: Cossatot River, Mena and Ouachita River.
“Mena Lioness Lions Club does the Backpack Program,” Floyd said. “We fund the majority of the Backpack Program. We put food in backpacks that go home with children who need them over the weekends and stuff out of the school. Today we are packing kind of a Zatarain’s type meal of beans and rice. Of course, you can add a meat to it to make a full meal. It’s packaged to feed about five to six people.”

Red beans and rice is one of the different meals The Pack Shack offers. They also have meals non-profits can choose from, such as pasta Parmesan or cheesy rice and vegetables. Although the company offers the “parties” all over the world, they are headquartered out of Cave Springs, Arkansas, which is located about halfway between Springdale and Bentonville in northwest Arkansas. Since their inception in 2013, the non-profit has surpassed 30 million meals packed for people across the USA.

“The Pack Shack has it organized to a fine science. Of course, they do this all over America. It’s called funnelology. We’re also talking with FFA about funnelology. They had a grant come in and I think they have to pack 200,000 meals. It’s funded already. They just need labor.”

That grant project is for FFA nationwide, but they cannot get a FFA organization with a facility to do it in. They have asked if the FFA in Polk County would take it on. Floyd said they were looking into help do that before the end of 2023.

Although The Pack Shack is a non-profit, there are costs involved, depending on the size of the party. “This cost $6,000, what we’re doing here today, but it stays in our county. It goes really fast. I was trying to figure out how many people we needed for what length of time. It’s just mesmerizing because it’s so organized, how many meals they’re packing in that time frame. We’re expecting about 300 volunteers. There’s so much to help with. It’s all hands on deck. The FFA kids really wanted to have a give back program this year. This is perfect. We have all of our FFA officers here. They’re excited to give back.”

“We’ve been really blessed that our extension office and everybody worked together to make this happen. It’s a community event and everybody’s been great.

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