Our local business community must rally around the hunger issue. The Arkansas Foodbank Network recently released a report from its national organization, Feeding America, which details the reasons: Child hunger first causes health issues, then creates educational deficiencies, and leads to work force and job readiness problems.
Certainly not one of us ever wants a child to go hungry. But what do we think happens to these children when they grow up?
When I began as a member of the Arkansas Foodbank Network’s board of directors six years ago, my conversations with people often had to begin with an education: Yes, there is hunger in America. Yes, there is hunger in Arkansas. Yes, there is hunger in Pulaski County, and Faulkner and Saline and Conway counties. In every county, in fact, in our state. Not just Phillips County, where I grew up, not just in the Delta.
I don’t often have to begin my conversations that way now. The economic and business turmoil of the past 18 months has opened the eyes of many Arkansans. I would bet someone with whom you are acquainted doesn’t know where his or her next meal is coming from.
September is Hunger Action Month, and many businesses, individuals and organizations have come together as a part of this national grassroots effort to raise awareness and action. They will partner with the more than 400 member food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and after-school and weekend feeding programs of the Arkansas Foodbank Network that feed our hungry neighbors every day.
Access to adequate, nutritional food is one of the necessities of life. As the saying has it: A person can have many problems, but a hungry person has only one. Between the first six months of 2008 and the last six months of 2008, the member food pantries of the Arkansas Foodbank Network reported a 23 percent increase in need. That is more Arkansas children, working parents, seniors, newly unemployed and others who are required to ask for food.
Just four years ago, in 2005, the Arkansas Foodbank Network distributed 6.2 million pounds of food to the organizations in the primary counties it serves in central and southern Arkansas. In 2008, it distributed 11 million pounds. And the network still can’t meet the need.
The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation has pledged almost $11 million to build a new facility from which the Foodbank expects to distribute 17 million pounds of food in 2012. When we set that target several years ago, it seemed like a stretch. But the Foodbank is on target to distribute 14 million pounds this year. That is equivalent to almost 11 million meals for our fellow Arkansans.
The work of the Arkansas Foodbank Network, from this planned new distribution facility, is critical to helping our neighbors, relatives and friends in need. The broad base of support from community businesses, organizations and individuals – Arkansans helping Arkansans – leads to a healthier, more robust and economically stable populace. And that’s a win for all Arkansans.
(Philip A. Tappan is managing partner of Tappan Land & Water and chairman of the Purple Cow restaurants. He is also chair of the Arkansas Foodbank Network’s Campaign Leadership Committee. For more information on hunger in our state, go to www.arkansasfoodbank.org.)