Rural Pantries Face Greater Demand

A local food drive recently netted Loaves and Fishes Food Bank of the Ozarks more than 4000 grocery items.

Feeding America’s recent Map the Meal Gap project showed that food insecurity in rural households is generally lower than in urban areas. Still, hunger persists on America’s back roads.

Ask Sara Hodgson, executive director of the Loaves and Fishes Food Bank of the Ozarks. She says the need for food assistance in Carroll County, Ark., is like it is in a lot of rural areas right now – rising.

The Berryville, Ark., facility has seen double-digit increases each of the last two years in the number of people it serves. That number rose 12 percent in 2010 to 22,929 people. Non-commodity food distributed last year totaled 174,222 pounds, up 21 percent from 2009.

Hodgson says her client base is a lot of elderly or disabled people and working families with kids who are having trouble making ends meet. According to Map the Meal Gap findings, Carroll County has a 15.7 percent food insecurity rate with 4,280 people who are food insecure.

“Especially with the price of gas and people having a hard time finding jobs, we’re seeing a bigger need than ever before,” Hodgson says. “We have a lot of people coming in and saying, ‘I’ve never done this before.’ They’re embarrassed to have to come to a pantry.

“But we understand, and thanks to donations like the one we just got from Tyson Foods we’re able to help.”

Tyson Foods Team Members from its Berryville and Green Forest facilities recently helped restock Loaves and Fishes’ shelves with a combined $3,800 of food and cash donations.

Located near Arkansas’ northwest corner, the county was named for Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Ark., who died in 1832 and was the last survivor of those who had signed the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

But it’s not the only rural area where the hungry are becoming more dependent on food assistance. Providers such as the Food Bank of Northwest Louisiana have seen the need to branch out with more and more rural pantries. In a recent newsletter, the Louisiana entity issued a call for help starting outreach pantries in Bienville, Webster and Claiborne parishes.

Rural hunger will continue to be a challenge, particularly with a season that saw parts of the south and midwest wrought with natural disasters. Loaves and Fishes Food Bank of the Ozarks does have some more good news, however. The 25-year-old faith-based program will make its last mortgage payment this summer.

And Hodgson said that will enable her outreach program to do that much more good.