I pulled up to a simple, nondescript warehouse at 3801 West 65th Street in Little Rock. On the outside in ordinary black font was "Arkansas Rice Depot". At first glance, I wondered if I was in the right spot, or was this actually some type of rice distribution facility...
I walked into the front office and was greeted warmly by the Arkansas Rice Depot logo with the statement: "hunger no more". I was definitely in the right place. The front of the warehouse had several small offices. There was a mixture of thank you and christmas cards hanging in the hallway and a small well lit gift shop full of Arkansas goods, t-shirts, coffee mugs, and more. A few minutes later, the rest of our team came in and we were welcomed by Brandi Johnston, the Community Development Director.
Obviously passionate about what she does and the role she plays in feeding Arkansas, she told us the story of how the rice depot got started. Arkansas rice farmers came together to provide a portion of their rice crop for the hungry. As it grew, they started taking in canned goods and various donations to feed the state. The unique thing about this group is they are all about "Arkansans feeding Arkansans". They take great pride in reaching help from locals to provide help to locals.
For 2015, the Rice Depot has two main focuses:
1. Food for Families
2. Food for Kids
Food for Families is the general program where they take in donated canned goods or purchase foods with donated funds and distribute the goods to families in need all over the state. These meals are packed by volunteers and distributed through local civic organizations and churches to those in need. If you are a member of a group or organization interested in helping, you can purchase and pack 10,000 meals for just $2,500! As a group, we will be doing this later in the year and will have a packing party at the Rice Depot. We are collecting general donations and canned goods for the Food for Families program starting today! If you would like to join us or donate to this program, let me know!
Food for Kids started in Arkansas with a phone call from a local counselor who said her students were struggling to get through the day and were not doing well in school. She believed that it was due to hunger. The rice depot jumped in to help and sent easy foods to the kids. The counselor loved the help, but the kids were being pestered for taking sacks of food home. When the rice depot heard this, they asked why the kids weren't putting the food in their backpacks. The counselor informed them that many of the kids couldn't afford a backpack either. So, the Arkansas Rice Depot sent backpacks. Many of the kids started doing much better in school because they had food to eat! The Food for Kids program is such a success that national organizations have adopted the program and have spread it to kids all over the US! We will be collecting donations for the Food for Kids program in Arkansas in June and July of this year.
We continued our tour where we saw the large area of tables that volunteers use to pack up goods. We walked out into the cool warehouse (due to the winter day) and saw shelves loaded with food. However, I was astonished to learn that the USDA food shelves would be completely empty and turned in a two week period! That's so much food, gone so fast!
We continued to walk through the warehouse and came to the "Food for Kids" section. Sadly many shelves were bare. They were down to a 1 week turn around for the backpack program.
I quickly walked in the the gigantic cold storage and snapped two photos of of large full shelves, but again, the turn around was just a few weeks.
When Allen's Canning went out of business in Arkansas, the rice depot lost a huge donor and they still have not recovered from the loss.
So, how important is the Arkansas Rice Depot to Arkansas?
In 2012, this small group of 17 employees, along with thousands of volunteers fed 15% of the state of Arkansas!
As we headed out, we stopped back by the gift shop and purchased a t-shirt that read, "This shirt fed a child for one month." That's right. $30 will feed a kid for an entire month.
If you have thought about getting involved to help people in need, I encourage you to take a look at the Arkansas Rice Depot. The Arkansas Rice Depot is one of the most efficient, well run organizations in the state with an amazing purpose and vision to help those in need. Also, give me a call! We will be actively involved with the rice depot all year and there are many many ways to participate from donating foods, to hosting your own canned food drive, donating to Food for Kids, supporting a kid for $30 a month, joining our packing party, or donating money for us to increase the size of our packing party! You CAN help!
1501 N Pierce, Little Rock, AR 72207