The Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter provides 24-hour emergency residential care for children who are victims of family violence, neglect and physical and sexual abuse. While the nonprofit offers a safe harbor for children, it also addresses the importance of tackling food insecurity.
The Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter cares for about 500 kids per year. During their brief stay at the facility in the Bentonville area their most important needs are addressed, including proper nutrition.
Chef Andrew Dias Jayasinghe’s kitchen is a finely tuned machine. As the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter Food Service Director Chef Andrew identified an immediate need to switch from the many processed foods they worked with through the federal school lunches program for more fresh foods. He immediately knew where to start.
“Let’s go grow food,” Dias Jayasinghe said as a matter of fact.
With some help from local police officers, a kitchen garden was constructed.
“We started it very small and we started growing herbs, we started doing some vegetables,” Dias Singhe shared. “It was very small.”
Chef Andrew not only fill the kitchen up with his warm personality, but also with a hearty bit of laughter as well.
Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter Director of Development Liz Anderson says Chef Andrew’s caring helps, because many kids come from food insecure situations.
“It’s important to meet the needs of the children,” Anderson explained. “And when they don’t have to worry about their next meal then we can move on to take care of their emotional needs and help them cope with some of the trauma that they’ve been through.”
Last year, alone, the shelter served about 40,000 meals and 21,000 snacks.
“We are teaching the kids to grow food, we just started doing composting, we are teaching them ‘farm to table,'” Dias Singhe shared. “I think that sets a good example for the kids.”
The shelter could not do it all without the help of their partners.
“The Northwest Arkansas Food Bank, Kraft-Heinz, General Mills, Tyson, Happy Eggs, we have so many partners here that provide really good nutritious food for the kids,” Anderson said.
Chef Andrew is immensely proud of his own grown-up daughters and looks at the shelter as a place to share more of his love.
“I have sort of a hole to fill in my life too, so this is a great place to fill that hole,” Dias Singhe offered with a warm and hearty laugh.
The Children’s Shelter could always benefit from the generosity of our community through donations and volunteering. Click here to learn more about how the nonprofit organization serves children and to find out how you can take a free tour to discover more about their mission.