Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

TOP STORY >> Foodbank working hard to reduce hunger pangs

BY JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

IN SHORT: FishNet Missions gets ready to feed hungry students, celebrates National Hunger Awareness Day.

While 400,000 Arkansans are hungry, few Arkansans are aware of the problem, according to Phyllis Haynes, director of Arkansas Foodbank Network.

To educate people Tuesday — National Hunger Awareness Day — the foodbank teamed up with Jacksonville’s overachieving FishNet Mission to feed the hungry at the mission’s dining room, 213 Marshall Road, and helped move and restock supplies.
Volunteers unloaded trucks and pallets, stocked shelves and made up food bags for the hungry and needy.

Joining FishNet and the Arkansas Food-bank Network were volunteers from St. Luke United Methodist Church in Omaha, Neb. — 16 youngsters and five adults.

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim stopped in to help load groceries.

“We’re just trying to help draw attention (to the fact that) there are a lot of hungry people,” said Haynes.

One hallmark of fast-growing FishNet, which now helps 8,000 families a month, is its open-door policy.

If people are hungry, they can come to get groceries on Tues-days and Thursdays without proof of income or identification, according to Dewey Sims, the director.

Sims said FishNet also delivers easy-to-make meals to about 200 senior citizens each week and services about 120 homeless people at the Arkansas River, under the Broadway Bridge on the Little Rock side.

Each Tuesday and Thursday, lunches will be available at the mission for kids who depend on the school breakfast and lunch programs during the school year, according to Sims.

More than half of the children in Arkansas public schools qualify for free or reduced school lunches, a low-income indicator.
“This day is an effort to raise awareness of issues surrounding hunger, and also an effort to help end hunger in Arkansas and across the country,” said a spokesman.

“FishNet Missions and Jack-sonville Care Channel represent only two of the numerous feeding programs that help meet the need in Arkansas every day,” he added.

The Arkansas Foodbank Network served nearly 150,000 different people last year, Haynes said.

Those needing food range from hardcore homeless, mentally ill, people chronically poor, or in some cases those working full- time jobs or temporarily without work.

That was the case for one woman who said her husband is a cement worker and because of recent rains had missed many days of work.

“I’ve got to feed my kids one way or another,” said one wo-man, loading food into the back of her car. “We need something to tide us over.”

The woman, a Cabot resident who wouldn’t give her name, said a church referred her to FishNet. This was her first visit, she said, but she’ll come back if she needs to.

FishNet is a very well run, large community-based organization, said Haynes.

Fresh squash and beans were included in the food packets Tuesday, food from American Second Harvest.

Other regular contributors include Kroger, Target, Nabisco, Bimbo Bakery and Coleman Diary, according to Frank Hilliard, a foodbank worker.

The Sherwood McDonald’s recently donated a walk-in refrigerator/freezer to FishNet and the group now has a commercial stove to prepare meals.