Food Insecurity and the CCEFP

Linda Burton posting from Arkadelphia, Arkansas – A round-about skew of circumstances brought me back to grant writing a few months ago. Yes, the writing of grant proposals in order to raise money for a cause. In this particular case, a very good cause, right here in Clark County, Arkansas. How much do you know about HUNGER in America? The politically correct term is “food insecurity” which is defined as being uncertain where your next meal is coming from. Riding across the vast wheat fields of Montana and corn fields of Nebraska, it seems like a fairy tale gone bad to think enough food isn’t getting to enough people. How could that be?

food cod fishermenConsider the seafood along our coasts and rivers – Gulf shrimp, northwest salmon, northeast cod, and those famous Mississippi catfish. Consider the beef cattle in Texas, the pork raised in Iowa. Consider the milk and cheeses of Wisconsin, the potatoes of Idaho, the Florida oranges, the California grapes. Consider that Arkansas is the food grapestop rice-growing state in the country, producing nearly 9 billion pounds annually. Yet Arkansas ranks as the 2nd most food insecure state in the nation, with 19.9% of its people not having enough to eat. That is 1 out of every 5! In Arkadelphia’s Clark County, where that rate is even higher, a group of people, chins set and purposeful, decided to step up and do something about it. An idea is where everything begins, and that idea stretched out over the how’s and who’s until finally, incorporated with by-laws and a few donations in hand, the Clark County Ecumenical Food Pantry (CCEFP) was born. Exactly who are they, and what have they done since their beginnings in August 2014?

During its first year of operation, 456 families representing 1,022 Clark County food-insecure residents enrolled in the CCEFP program. Working with a first-year budget of $7,000, approximately 43,500 pounds of food with an estimated retail value of $101,400 were distributed to those families. How in blazes was that possible?

food donateYou might call CCEFP a loaves and fishes operation. You know, when you take a little and move forward believing it can become a lot. Orville and Wilbur believed they could get off the ground and fly. Thomas Edison believed he could light up the world. Does IDEA + BELIEF bring the desired results? Not quite. You need a third ingredient, and that is called ACTION. You need to get off your butt and work to make things happen. And things have been happening with CCEFP. If you don’t believe me, stop in at the Arkadelphia First United Methodist Church on the 3rd Tuesday of every month. That is Food Distribution Day, where the energy level vibrates in a steady hum of getting-it-done activity.

Food Distribution Day begins early, with the arrival of the volunteer crew. Shelves are rolled into place in the community room and food items are stocked in grocery-store style with areas for canned goods, cereals, breads, fresh produce, meats, and dairy. Boxes are prepared for food shelveshome bound delivery according to any special restrictions or needs. Computers are set up on tables in the gathering room where new recipients will be registered, and all food recipients will sign in.

The actual food distribution takes place in the afternoon. Recipients are first seated in the gathering room to await their turn for sign-in or registration, and then guided through the food lines by volunteers who assist with food selection. Volunteers are available in the gathering room to advise those who need referral to healthcare services; ministers offer pastoral counseling to those who request it.

Where do all these volunteers come from? The volunteer pool is huge; it consists of members from the seven area churches that make up CCEFP – Arkadelphia Holiness Tabernacle, Apostolic Faith Church, First Presbyterian Church, First United Methodist Church, Hollywood United Methodist Church, Mt Olive Missionary Baptist Church, St Mary’s Catholic Church – as well as members of local civic organizations such as Rotary and Clark County Homemakers Council, students from our two universities, Henderson State and Ouachita Baptist, and the food recipients themselves. One recipient serves as a Board member, contributing knowledge and suggestions from an insider’s point of view.

CCEFP is managed by a 14-member Board, headed by Director Cindy Jackson. Any skill or talent is useful to the program – from the muscle of maneuvering a dolly and unloading a food delivery truck, to all those Distribution Day tasks, to everything that goes on behind the scenes, such as record-keeping and reporting, placing food orders, searching for funding sources, and tracking the nitty-gritty of making sure everything comes together at the right time. Currently more than 50 volunteers have a hand in one or more of those activities.

For the first grant proposal I wrote, I calculated the volunteer hours donated in one month’s time. The total? Hold onto your hat; it was more than 800! In a year’s time, my goodness, 10,000 hours volunteered. That doesn’t even count what happens in each of the churches as they promote the Food Pantry and bring in food donations themselves.

The number served has grown every month since August 2014, but the vision is not simply to serve more people, it is also to expand the services available, such as addressing the special needs of seniors and children, and offering a healthy eating education program to all. Remember, this was just an IDEA in the beginning, put together with the BELIEF that it could happen. But it was ACTION that brought it to life.

The Clark County Ecumenical Food Pantry (CCEFP) is affiliated with the Arkansas Food Bank, which is part of the Feeding America network.

Arkansas Food Bank

Feeding America

Learn more about HUNGER in America and what YOU can do about it:

Read about your own county and state at Map the Meal Gap, where you’ll see a bird’s-eye view of Hunger in America.

The U S national average of households suffering food insecurity is 14.3%. Fourteen states had significantly higher food insecurity rates than that between 2012-2014.

  1. Mississippi 22.0%
  2. Arkansas 19.9%
  3. Louisiana 17.6%
  4. Kentucky 17.5%
  5. Texas 17.2%
  6. Ohio 16.9%
  7. Alabama 16.8%
  8. Missouri 16.8%
  9. North Carolina 16.7%
  10. Oklahoma 16.5%
  11. Tennessee 16.3%
  12. Maine 16.2%
  13. Oregon 16.1%
  14. Kansas 15.9%