One million snackpacks handed out to children in Northwest Arkansas

story by Kim Souza
ksouza@thecitywire.com

The SnackPack for Kids program purchases and distributes nearly 6,800 snack packs to local children at risk for hunger, and Friday (Feb. 7) marked a bittersweet milestone for the Samaritan Community Center handed out its one millionth snack pack to Clara Chambers a student at R.E. Baker Elementary in Bentonville.

Nearly one in three local children are at risk for hunger, in what as seen as “the land of plenty,” said Debbie Rambo, executive director at the Samaritan Community Center and cofounder of the snack-pack program nine years ago. The program began when Rambo transitioned her work into the non-profit sector. Rambo said years ago a friend and teacher told her of a young boy that collapsed in school on a Monday morning when he smelled food aromas coming from the cafeteria. The school officials then discovered that the young boy’s last meal had been his school lunch the previous Friday.

“That was just unfathomable to me and I said then that someday I was going to do something about this problem that so many were unaware existed,” Rambo said. “I had seen on the news what the Community Clearinghouse was doing in Fort Smith to help get food to hungry children and said that’s something we could can do too.”

SnackPack for Kids began with three schools providing supplemental food for the weekend to 300 local students. Today there are 95 schools in the program and it covers more than 3,500 square miles of area from Siloam Springs to Green Forest and from Bentonville to Lincoln.

An estimated 3,200 volunteers donate 7,400 hours of time annually to pack the snacks and deliver them to the 95 schools each week.  At Friday’s event, mayors from Bentonville, Springdale and Rogers each spoke of the impact the program has on their school children.

“I have done some research and I can assure each of you children here today, that everyone in this auditorium, everyone, used to be a kid. We all understand how important it is to take good care of our future leaders,” said Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin. 

He read a proclamation signed by his mayoral colleagues proclaiming Friday (Feb. 7) as SnackPack for Kids Day. In the Bentonville District, McCaslin said 700 children are helped each week. The students have received 100,000 snack packs over the life of the program.

Rogers Mayor Greg Hines said the program originated in Rogers, because concerned citizens sought to make a difference. Today, Hines said snack packs are distributed in 13 schools across the city to 900 kids each week. More than 163,000 snack packs have been handed out so far.

“We are only as strong as the least among us,” Hines said.

Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse said the contributions to his community have been tremendous and the need continues to grow. He said 30 schools are involved across the city, and 2,200 children benefit each week. More than 230,000 snack packs have been handed out to Springdale children so far.

“We know we make a difference, but there are other children we don’t reach,” Rambo said. 

The cost of running the program is exhaustive. Rambo, fighting back tears, said it wouldn’t be possible without the Walmart Foundation and all the help they provide. United Way, Arvest Bank, Endeavor Foundation, CCF Brands, General Mills, ConAgra, Tyson Foods and Rotary International were also lauded for their continued financial and volunteer support over the years.

The cost of each of snack pack is $1.79, multiplied by 6,800 recipients is more than $12,000 each week and there is no time off for inclement weather because the kids always need the food supplements at home.

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Ginger Brooks, board member at the Samaritan Community Center, said the Snack Pack program has reached out to Springdale-based Tyson Foods and a dietician in an effort to provide healthier, higher-protein valued snacks. Tyson Foods recently contributed $45,000 and its nutritional expertise in product development.

Rambo said recently that other food companies had also been approached to help create a higher protein, snack item that could be purchased wholesale. She said the charity has become so large that it is ordering snack items directly from the manufacturer at a cost savings, but in huge volumes.

“We continue this work, and pray for a day when it’s not longer needed. But until then, we will be here pushing toward two million healthier snacks,” Rambo said.

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enduring hunger

This enduring condition of hunger is perplexing to me. In this day and age of information and technology not like anything we have ever experienced before, an enduring condition of hunger, existing in any portion of the population, is absurd and ludicrous. Yet, it not only endures, it grows. Every person I know, throughout their entire life, expends varying portions of their time, energy and effort in a continuous attempt to avoid the discomfort that comes with being hungry. Avoiding hunger is an inherent objective that comes with having a body and keeping the body alive and healthy. Of course, we all experience hunger but, fortunately, for many of us, we don't ever have to experience a condition of chronic hunger. Chronic hunger is a problem. In order for a problem to be a problem it must contain a lie. The bigger the problem the more lies it contains. I suspect that a basic lie that exists in the problem of chronic hunger is the belief and acceptance that it is a problem that will always exist, cannot be solved but can only be treated. Therefore instead bothering to identify the source/cause of the problem and correcting that, all the attention, energy, resources and effort is directed toward treating the symptom i.e., relieving the acute discomfort inherent in the condition of chronic hunger. As I take in the numbers cited in the article that measure the personnel, institutions and financial resources directed, and to be directed, toward better treating the symptom of chronic hunger, I can't help but wonder what would happen if this same amount of attention and resources, backed up by the same degree of passion, were directed to solving the source/cause of problem...what might happen. I could go on and on but, I won't. I'll just end off with this thought: from the article - 95 schools, 3,200 volunteers, 7,400 hours volunteer time and $45,000 dollars. With those resources in mind, how about turning a negative into a positive? Meaning, turn the treatment of chronic hunger into an educational process. Instead of continually handing out fish teach the kids and their parents how to fish. Install working urban educational farms in every school. The journey from seed to table provides an incredible vehicle, an incredible opportunity, in which to develop a comprehensive educational program that has the potential to simultaneously eliminate the condition of chronic hunger. And there is a wealth of information, technology and resources extant that could be utilized in such an effort.
This enduring condition of hunger is perplexing to me. In this day and age of information and technology not like anything we have ever experienced before, an enduring condition of hunger, existing in any portion of the population, is absurd and ludicrous. Yet, it not only endures, it grows. Every person I know, throughout their entire life, expends varying portions of their time, energy and effort in a continuous attempt to avoid the discomfort that comes with being hungry. Avoiding hunger is an inherent objective that comes with having a body and keeping the body alive and healthy. Of course, we all experience hunger but, fortunately, for many of us, we don't ...>> Read the entire comment.