BENTONVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The prevalence of very low food security in Arkansas is higher than the national average in 2020-22 according to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and there are several food pantries in Northwest Arkansas to help battle the issue.

One of them is Helping Hands Food Pantry located in the Helping Hands Inc. Thrift Store in Bentonville. 

The food pantry serves Benton County residents Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Monica Palacios recently lost her job and was getting food at the Helping Hands Food pantry on Thursday. 

“I’m just getting back into transitioning and just trying to reach out for help,” Palacios said.

She is finding ways to take care of herself, her four kids, and grandson.

“It’s a blessing just to even have a meal for the next day or even for a family in need,” Palacios said.

Palacios says there are fruits, vegetables, meat, and snacks for the kids at the food pantry.

“Just here to get them something to eat and just put together some meals for them. And I’m able to do that through this place. So, just thankful and grateful,” Palacios said. 

She says there’s always enough food to make for a couple of days. 

The food pantry used to serve about 25 to 30 families a day but now it averages between 50 to 70 according to Bill Crawford, Executive Director of Helping Hands.

“We’ve seen a tremendous increase in the demand on our food pantry over the last, probably, year or so,” Crawford said. 

He says he sees the most demand during summer break.

“When you’ve got the kids home from school, they’re not getting the school lunches that they had been getting,” Crawford said.

Crawford says there is food insecurity in Northwest Arkansas but he says he’s sure it’s “not anything like they’re experiencing in central and southern Arkansas.”

Julie Damer, director of marketing and communications for the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank,  says it distributed more than 13.8 million pounds of food in Benton, Caroll, Madison, and Washington counties during 2022. 

She says a lot of people need help and there’s more than 70,000 food-insecure people in NWA. 

“People are amazed because this is such a vibrant, thriving community. But hunger unfortunately, still exists, and there’s people here that need help,” Damer said. 

Damer also says rural areas, specifically, have a lot of food insecurity.

Crawford says some people may not be able to swallow their pride and ask for help.

“We’re not here to judge anybody. I mean, we’ve all been there, too. And we just want to make sure people are getting fed.”

Damer encourages people to help out not just during the holidays but all year round.

She says for every dollar that people donate, they can provide up to five meals for somebody in need. 

For those who are in need of food, there is a list of resources in each county.