A way to fight hunger in Northwest Arkansas this holiday season

November 24, 2023 00:24:21
A way to fight hunger in Northwest Arkansas this holiday season
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
A way to fight hunger in Northwest Arkansas this holiday season

Nov 24 2023 | 00:24:21


Hosted By

Dave Perozek

Show Notes

It may seem the Christmas ads have been running since July, but for many, it’s hard to get into the Christmas spirit until Thanksgiving is history. At the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, we’re hoping the spirit of giving this season will inspire our readers and podcast listeners and we’ve created an opportunity to help others right here in our part of the state.

On this week’s episode of the Know the News podcast, we provide details of the annual Community Christmas Card project that will benefit the school pantries program of the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank.

Kent Eikenberry, president and CEO, and Sabrina Thiede, director of programs at the food bank, joined us recently to discuss their work against hunger and food insecurity as well as the opportunity presented through the Community Christmas Card.

This episode also previews some of the stories you will find in Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for the weekend of Nov. 29.

Those who want to donate to the Community Christmas Card can do so in the following ways:

     Community Christmas Card

     c/o Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

     Attention: Sandy Robinson

     P.O. Box 1607

     Fayetteville AR 72702

A minimum donation of $3 is suggested. Be sure to indicate in your mailing or at the website if your donation is being made in honor or in memory of someone you care about.


For additional information about the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank, visit https://www.nwafoodbank.org/

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Speaker A: Hi, everyone. I'm Greg Harton, editorial page editor of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette. I hope you all had an outstanding Thanksgiving. [00:00:08] Speaker B: Coming up in just a minute, we're. [00:00:10] Speaker A: Going to talk to some great folks from the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank about hunger in our part of the world and their efforts to battle it. And there's an opportunity for you, our listeners, to help make a difference this holiday season. And as always, we'll tell you what you can expect in this weekend's editions of the Democrat Gazette. More on all of that in just a moment. On this episode of Know the News. My guests are Kent Eichenberry, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank, and Sabrina Athedi, the Food Bank's director of programs. It's great to see both of you guys. Thanks for having us. So before we talk about the food bank itself, let's open with a quick rundown on the situation that you're part of combating every day hunger in Northwest Arkansas. What do you see day in and day out as far as the need for responding to that? [00:01:16] Speaker C: I think one of the things that people have a hard time understanding is that there are 70,000 plus food insecure people in the Fort County area. A lot of that is simply due to the cost of living. Inflation has caused housing prices to go up, gas prices to go up, food prices to go up, and the wages have not gone up proportionately. So there's more gap at the end of the month. I tell a lot of people and Greg, you and I have known each other for a long time. We know somebody who is food insecure. They may not admit it to us, but I guarantee you, you know somebody who is. [00:01:58] Speaker A: So let's make sure we get the terminology right. We talk about hunger sometimes and then there's the term food insecure. Help us to understand exactly what the distinction. [00:02:10] Speaker C: Again, you and I have known each other for a long time and you can tell by looking at me I get hungry on a regular basis. Hunger is something that can be satisfied with food. Food insecurity is not knowing and not having the resources to put a meal on the table. [00:02:35] Speaker A: So just uncertainty about where the next meal is coming from to a degree. Okay. Through the work of the food bank. What's a day at the food bank look like in terms of dealing with the issues of food insecurity and hunger? [00:02:52] Speaker D: I think it looks different depending on what aspect of the food bank you're working with. So I am fortunate enough every day to get to work in our programs side of the food bank. So that means I get to see the neighbors that we're serving day in and day out and it looks very different depending on the program we're doing. So if we're doing a mobile pantry, we're out in our rural communities and we're serving our neighbors who don't have a brick and mortar place to go and get groceries through the charitable food network. So that's what a mobile pantry looks like. A school pantry, which we'll get into later talks more is more where a family who is already being served by their school can just go to their school and get help. We have a community resource center in Rogers that is a freestanding pantry where neighbors can go and shop independently, just like they were at a grocery store. But the people we look at, it's interesting when people ask that question. It's like, what does food insecurity look like? Well, it looks like you and I. It looks different depending on the situation. It could be somebody who is making the choice between keeping their lights on or putting food on the table for their families. It can look like a family that just got a flat tire and they had to put new tires on their car so they can't put groceries on the table. Food insecurity doesn't have a look, if that makes sense. And so we are just there to make sure that our neighbors have reasonable access to food. [00:04:16] Speaker A: So my impression with the food bank is that most people underestimate what it takes to make that work or the extent to which its kind of tentacles reach out into the community. I think when people think of a food bank, they just think of one place to go and get a box of food occasionally or something like that. But it seems like it's much more complex than that. [00:04:45] Speaker C: So the best way to describe what we do is much like a wholesale grocer. We have approximately 115 agency partners in Benton, Carroll, Madison, Washington County. We collect food or collect money to buy food. We put it in a warehouse, and then those agency partners get the food from us and give it to the individuals. Now, the caveat to that is that Sabrina's team also does direct distribution, but for the most part, a lot of people refer to their church pantry as a food bank. It's a pantry, and it's one of those terminology things, I guess a matter of interpretation. To them, they're a food bank. But because people come to us to get food, we consider ourselves when agency partners come to us, we're unique in the sense that we're a food bank and they're a food pantry. [00:05:50] Speaker A: I guess you could say you all are, in a lot of cases, kind of the middleman, middle person to get food to people or to agencies. How does that benefit the overall operation? Does it allow your agencies to spend more time boots on the ground directly with people, as opposed to them worrying about where they're going to get the food? [00:06:15] Speaker C: That's part of it. The biggest part of it is that they get their food from us at a fraction of what it would cost to buy someplace else for example, shelf stable food. They can get it for nine cents a pound from us as opposed to what it would cost to buy it. We're a member of Feeding America. So between getting food from Feeding America, we get a lot of what we call retail rescue and those things, and we're able to stretch a pantry's dollar. We have a warehouse. We're able to store it so they can get just in time delivery so they don't have to do that. Sabrina, again, worked at an agency partner. We're just going through the transition from partner agency to agency partner. [00:07:13] Speaker A: Terminology is important. [00:07:14] Speaker C: I get confused sometimes, but Sabrina can talk more to that than really I can. [00:07:22] Speaker D: I think one of the best things about the food bank that we can do is we can leverage the donor's dollar. So whereas we have the capacity to purchase an entire truckload of corn, right? So your typical agency partner is not going to be able to do that. They don't have the storage, they don't have the funds, and they just don't have, really the connection to be able to do that. Whereas the food bank, it's very easy for us to do that, to receive that, to store it, and then to get it out to as many partner agencies as we can. So if somebody, a vendor, wanted to give us a truckload of mac and cheese, we'd be able to take that and then share that throughout our partner agency, agency partner, whatever we're calling them now, that network. And so you're really getting the most bang for your buck when you utilize the food bank in that way. [00:08:15] Speaker A: So we talk about that $0.09 on the dollar kind of thing. But I just want to make sure I understand this clearly. For the recipients, the end user of this food, is there a cost to them at all? [00:08:31] Speaker E: No. [00:08:32] Speaker A: Okay. All right. That was my understanding. I wanted to make sure that everyone understood that. So you talked a little bit about kind of the population of people out there that are food insecure, getting better, getting worse? [00:08:52] Speaker D: Oh, I hate this question. I think that we are seeing more neighbors than we have in quite some time. Our service numbers are going up. What is it? 35 people that are coming into Northwest Arkansas every day. Not all 35 of them are going to be able to provide for themselves or be self sufficient when it comes to food. And so as our population grows, the need is obviously going to continue to grow as well. And so we just, at the food bank want to make sure that all of our neighbors know where they can go and receive food. That's a goal of ours. [00:09:29] Speaker A: All right, well, we'll have more of our interview right after this brief message. [00:09:33] Speaker E: If you're enjoying this podcast, consider a newspaper subscription to the northwest Arkansas democrat gazette or the river valley democrat gazette. We have a special offer for our podcast listeners. So visit nwanline.com podcast 23 to get started. You can also click the subscribe button on our websites, nwanline.com and Rivervallieddemocratgazette.com, or call us at 479-684-5509 and be sure to say that you're a podcast listener. Now back to the show. [00:10:03] Speaker A: We're back with our guests Kent Eichenberry and Sabrina Athedi of the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank. So tell me, I guess this is just a basic question. How do you know what you're doing is making a difference? [00:10:18] Speaker D: Oh, you can see it on People's Know. We at our community resource center, Feed Rogers. That's where we get to interact with our neighbors the most and get to hear their and I the very first day we were open, about a year and a half ago. Like I said earlier, they get to go in and choose their groceries, so it's set up like a grocery store, and they get to choose the foods that are best for their families. And there was a mom shopping with her young son, and we had a whole aisle of cereal, and she let him choose whichever cereal he wanted. And I almost start crying when I talk about it, and he goes, I get to choose whichever one I want. [00:10:55] Speaker A: That's a big deal. [00:10:56] Speaker D: Never happens. And the mom just started crying in that moment because you could tell that it was like relief that she was getting to provide an experience for her child that so many of us take for granted. And I think it's just in those little moments like that that we really know that the work that we're doing is making our community better for our neighbors. [00:11:18] Speaker A: So we're going to talk here in just a moment about an opportunity for our listeners to give back this Christmas season. And that involves what you all refer to as school pantries. So tell me a little bit about school pantries and what all is involved in school pantries and why they're important here in Northwest Arkansas. [00:11:42] Speaker D: So our school pantry program started back in 2019, and we started it because we saw a need to serve the children in our community. And through our other efforts, the number of children we were serving just didn't really match up with the need. And so we were like, let's try to hit these families when they're at the school. And so we started in a springdale elementary school, and we kind of grew through that process. And how it works right now is every school operates a little bit differently. They get to choose how they operate, but we give them the food. It's no cost to the school or the school district. We give them that food, and then they get to distribute that to the families that are in their school that need it. We have a really great backpack snack pack program in Northwest Arkansas, but we were looking for something that would not only feed the child, but also the whole family. It breaks down a barrier of having to make another stop. So a lot of parents are already at the school. They're already picking up their kid, they're already there for a school function. And this allows them to not have to go somewhere else to get something that they need. Right now we are currently working with 27 different schools in our four county service area, which is Benton, Madison, Carroll, and Washington counties. And each school, like I said, runs it a little bit differently. Some do a drop off model. So during the car rider line, parents can drive through and pick up food as they need it. Some have set up like a little store in their school where they can come and as a family needs it. If a parent is there for whatever reason, they can shop in their little store. Or we also do it where they keep the supplies on hand. And then as they see like the counselors and the social workers in the school as they see it a need, they'll be able to send food home with their students. [00:13:29] Speaker A: Well, I won't forget to mention teachers as well because I know a lot of teachers out there that they are on the front lines and they a lot of times are the first ones to recognize that there's an issue that needs to be looked into a little bit more deeply in terms of helping families out there. [00:13:46] Speaker D: Absolutely. I think we have the greatest public schools in Northwest Arkansas and they're doing everything they can to make sure that the kids educational and social needs are taken care of. And one of the things that's a little bit beyond their control is that nutrition need. And so that's where we can come in and we can walk alongside the schools and make sure that those kids get what they need. [00:14:06] Speaker A: So let's tell our listeners about this opportunity to join the Democrat Gazette and the Food Bank this holiday season. It's called the Community Christmas Card and it's been an annual project of the Democrat Gazette. And prior to that, the morning news here in Northwest Arkansas been done for years. And what we've done is we've created a path where people can give to help fulfill the mission of the Food Bank in the spirit of the Christmas season. And 100% of the money goes directly to the Food Bank's work. And this year specifically into the school pantry program. Donors can give a donation from the minimum recommended donation is just free dollars. And free dollars can make a difference in you all's world, can it? [00:15:00] Speaker C: Absolutely. [00:15:02] Speaker A: So of course, we'll take donations of any size and we'll be glad to be shocked by somebody's big donation if they want to give one. The Democrat Gazette in turn will publish in our Christmas Eve edition a big page in which all of the donors names will be listed and they can donate in honor of someone or in memory of someone that's no longer with us. But they can certainly reflect on the people that they've cared about as they show care and concern for other people in our community. So the donations are going to be accepted through December 31. The deadline for being part of that Christmas Day ad is on December 21. So we encourage our listeners to encourage their friends to be involved in this. And information about where to make donations are going to be included with the notes with this podcast. So be sure to look that up, and I'll tell you more about that a little bit later. So this is, I believe, the fourth year that Community Christmas Card has partnered with the Food Bank. [00:16:17] Speaker C: Yes, that's correct. [00:16:19] Speaker A: So tell me just how much people's giving makes a difference for the organization and the people it serves. [00:16:27] Speaker C: So in the three years prior to this, we're looking at, I would say $80 to $85,000 that we've collected. Makes a significant impact. In this particular case, it cost us. Help me, Sabrina. How much does it cost for a school pantry? For a year? [00:16:53] Speaker D: It's about $10,000. [00:16:55] Speaker C: So if all of those had been going to the school pantry, that would be eight or nine more schools that we would be able to do. So it makes a difference, and eight or nine schools is thousands of kids. Diana was a school teacher, and she saw what you talked about earlier, where a student is. You know, after doing a little digging, they found out that they didn't have breakfast or they didn't have supper the night before. And kids can't learn. And for us to break the cycle of generational poverty, we've got to find a way to where young people can learn, and education is one of the keys to do that. [00:17:45] Speaker A: So what have I missed? [00:17:47] Speaker D: I don't know. I just think that to the listeners that are supporting this cause, just this school year, we've served close to 9000 students through that school pantry, and we couldn't do it without the generosity of our community. And it takes projects like this to make sure that our kids get you know, USDA came out with a report several weeks ago that Arkansas is number one in food insecurity now, and we don't like that number. And so that means we're going to work extra hard to make sure that we're not number one next time they do this. [00:18:21] Speaker C: It's it takes the community. Food insecurity is such a large problem that one organization can't tackle it and can't solve it. So we do have to work together. We have to collaborate. We have to work with other we work with lots of other 501 to try and address the whole individual. But we also know that it's not our role to deal with the housing shortage. It's our role is to feed people. It's our role to help people be the best version of themselves they can be by helping them with their know. Sabrina is right. She talks about and I've seen the look of despair turn to the look of hope, and, boy, it doesn't get any better than that. [00:19:12] Speaker A: Well, my guests today were Kent Eichenberry and Sabrina Athedi of the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank. Thank you both for being part of this conversation and for the work that you guys do every day. [00:19:23] Speaker C: Well, and thank you. And thanks to the Democrat Gazette for offering this opportunity for us to help. This is another example of how you guys have invested in the community to try and make it a better place to live. So thank you. [00:19:37] Speaker B: So why are we focused on the Northwest Arkansas food bank here at the Democrat Gazette? Well, imagine for a moment sitting up late at night, kids tucked away in bed, and you're worrying about what am I going to feed them next week when they say, what's for breakfast? What if you don't have an answer? Or imagine going to your job, trying to make the money that you need to keep the heat and the lights on and you're hungry. Wouldn't that affect how good a job you can do? Could it put your job at risk, making your family's situation even worse? I'm not saying your $3 or $5 or $100 will solve every problem out there, but it will solve the fundamental question what do we have to eat for some of our neighbors in their moments of need? Why do we list the names on Christmas Eve? Is it vanity? I'd argue it's not. This is lending your name to a cause because it matters. And when people see your name supporting a cause, it might just give them the encouragement to also join in, to tap into their own wellspring of giving. I would also suggest it serves to show that Northwest Arkansas is a caring community. We know that's the case, but when you're in need, it might be easy to feel like you're alone. So, yes, we ask for your donations, but we also encourage you to put your name behind the effort so that it's truly a sense of community we're fostering through the Community christmas Card. Get your pen and paper ready. I'm about to give you some information about how to make a donation to this campaign. If you miss it, though, the information will be included in the notes published with this podcast. So donations may be made using a debit or credit card by visiting this link. Nwanline.com 2023 Christmascard. Now, that's all one word. So, Nwanline.com 2023 Christmascard. If you prefer writing a check, you can send it to Community Christmas Card, care of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Attention. Sandy Robinson PO. Box 1607, Fayetteville, Arkansas 72702. In advance. All of us at the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette, thank you for your generosity. And now a quick preview of some of the stories coming up in the next few days in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette reporter Doug Thompson tells us about the strain. The two one one hotline system is often under when colder weather hits the region. Two one one is the free, 24 hours a day confidential service operated by the United Way to help people find help with food, shelter, rental assistance, childcare and more. It connects people in need with community services that can help. Mike Jones will report on moves to expand staffing at the Benton County Veteran Services Office, which not only works with local veterans in our area, but with others who come from Oklahoma and Missouri. We'll get a story from Tracy Neal exploring the entangling legal issues when a man is arrested over threatening lyrics in music. The First Amendment protects a lot of speech, but certainly not every word. This is a Benton County case involving music, about shooting up a school, bombing a public event and racial violence in sports. Saturday, we will include details of the Arkansas versus Missouri football game at Razorback Stadium, and there will be coverage of the high school football playoffs, including Fayetteville's Seven, a semifinals contest against Conway in the River Valley. Read Thomas Cicente's story about a rooftop garden Baptist Health is installing at its Marvin Altman Fitness center. The produce grown there will help feed Baptist Health Fort Smith's patients through its Food RX program and in. What's up? Learn about the Indigenous heritage of two staff members at the Museum of Native American History in Bentonville in recognition of Native American Heritage Month. All this and more can be found in the pages of your Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette in the days ahead. Be sure to check it out. That's it for this episode of Know the News. Thank you for joining us. I'll see you next time I host our weekly Know the News podcast.

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