RIVER VALLEY, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — As we get closer to the holiday season, it’s the perfect time to highlight the important work our local food banks do. The River Valley Food Bank continues to work to serve its community despite the obstacles thrown its way.
“It’s just people helping people,” said Tracy Engel, Director of the food bank.
The River Valley Food Bank has been serving the community since 1986, and it helps people in eight counties. But in the last few years, its demand has significantly increased.
“Before the 2019 flood, the 100 year flood we called it, started we were at about 9 million pounds of food a year and with the flood we were at 11 million, and so with the pandemic we’ve been doing a little over 22 million pounds of food distributed out,” said Engel.
Numbers show that one in six River Valley adults are hungry, and that number is one in four for children.
Volunteers have also seen this increase.
“We went from serving 30 families to about 120,” said Roy Shankle, who has volunteered in the Hartford area for the past 10 years.
Engel said people are having to make decisions they shouldn’t have to.
“You should never have to choose between your utilities, medication, and food,” she said. “You should never have to choose between that and a lot of times, that’s what a lot of families are doing and a lot of elderly are doing, that’s what veterans are doing and what our children are having to do, and it’s just not acceptable.”
Engel said they have struggled to find canned good as the pandemic has continued, and that a lot of their volunteer base comes from older people. As the pandemic hit that population hard in 2020, it also hit the 168 member agencies the food bank partners with, as they struggled to keep volunteer numbers up.
Engel calls these people the boots on the ground.
“I’m 74 years old and it’s a privilege to be able to give back,” said Shankle, who received the food bank’s 2021 Fighter Hunger Award. “You feel like you’re feeding your kids and your grandkids, you’re family. We truly are like a family in this area.”
Engel said it doesn’t take much to make sure local families and neighbors go to sleep with full bellies.
“One dollar, it’s that great Feeding America buying power,” she said. “We buy in bulk and get such great discounts as a Feeding America Food Bank. And that trickles down into our pantries into families pantries and individuals and being able to provide them sustenance and a good meal.”
Now as we get closer to the holidays, Engel said they need canned good items to put in their holiday boxes. They are looking for items like peanut butter, canned pumpkin, corn and cranberries. She also hopes people will reach out to volunteer as well.