Food Bank Summer Meal Program
The Food Bank of North Central Arkansas offers free meals to children under 18 at 10 Summer Meal Sites in Baxter, Marion and Searcy counties. The Summer Meal Program is a partner of the After-School Meal Program, according to Jeff Quick, Chief Executive Officer of the food bank which operates both programs locally. The meals, he says, are provided by the USDA and follow their nutritional guidelines. Many of the sites also offer educational and recreational activities for children.
Quick reports in 2017, 7,000 meals were distributed through both programs. The following year, the meals distributed more than doubled to 16,000. During 2019, he expects the two programs will distribute 30,000 meals to children in need, including between 8,000 to 10,000 meals through the summer program alone.
According to statistics provided from Feeding America, the food insecurity rate in Arkansas has increased from 23.2 percent in 2018 to 23.6 percent in 2019. In North Central Arkansas, the percentage has decreased slightly from 25.3 percent in 2018 to 24.9 percent in 2019. Baxter County’s rate has decreased from 23.2 percent in 2018 to 22.3 percent in 2019 and the 2018 rate of 25.6 percent in Marion County remains unchanged.
“While we have had a decrease in the number of food insecure children, it is still near 1 in 4,” says Quick. “It is just not acceptable to have children who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”
Arkansas Senator Boozman has championed legislation to reform the summer meals program to make federal child nutrition programs more efficient and flexible so all children, no matter where they live, have access to healthy, nutritious meals when school is out.
He serves on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee which held a hearing on Child Nutrition Reauthorization and is committed to reviewing the summer meals program to better serve children.
“As a former school board member, I’ve seen first-hand that nutrition is critical to our children’s ability to thrive in and out of the classroom,” said Boozman. “For too many of our nation’s children, summer can be the hungriest time of the year. That’s why we need a summer meals program that works in urban, suburban and rural areas.
“I will continue to press the administration and pursue legislative improvements that allow Arkansas and all states the flexibility they need to choose what makes the most sense in their communities, so that children in rural and hard to reach communities are getting the nutrition they need in the summer,” the Senator added.
Arkansas First District Congressman Rick Crawford, who serves on the Agriculture Committee, has played a critical role in the passage of two Farm Bills. He views agriculture as a national security issue and said, “Our food programs play a vital role in keeping our friends and families nourished and healthy. Food access has always been a challenge in rural America and expanding mobile feeding programs would help fill the gap, providing new avenues to healthy choices.”
Local churches also work year-round to provide meals for children. Now in its sixth year, the Summer Feeding Program, a ministry of First United Methodist Church in Mountain Home, is serving nearly 50 families in Mountain Home.
Susan Dernick, ministry chair, said while the Backpack and Weekend Meals programs help families during the school year, the Summer Feeding Program fills the gap when school is out.
Each week families signed up for the program receive boxes of food packaged by church volunteers and paid for by donations from church members. Families of children in Mountain Home schools or head start, as well as home-school students are eligible.
The food is distributed each Thursday, for 11 weeks beginning May 30 from 11:15 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the church.
Although sign-up and information sheets were distributed to children at the end of the school year, it is not too late for eligible families to begin receiving the weekly food distributions.
For more information, call or stop by the church located at 605 West 6th Street at the corner of 6th and Bucher Drive in Mountain Home. Office hours are Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the phone number is (870) 425-6036. The church will also gratefully accept donations to their Backpack Weekend Meals programs and Summer Feeding Programs.
Seamless Summer Meals at Norfork Schools are served in the cafeteria of the Elementary School on the Norfork School campus off AR Highway 5 and Sheid Road. For menu information and directions, call the school at (870) 499-7192.
For information on the programs of the Food Bank of North Central Arkansas, visit their website at foodbanknca.org or call their office at (870) 499-7565. Donations to the programs of the food bank can be made at the website.