LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - A change in the law is putting more stress on food banks around Arkansas, right when they start preparing for the holidays. So a new app was designed just for local pantries, to get more food to the people who need it.
The “Be Neighborly” app was launched at the end of August by The Pack Shack, a non-profit from Rogers dedicated to ending food insecurity. The app allows users to choose from among sets of food, which can be donated to one of six hunger relief agencies around Arkansas.
The app’s release comes at an important time.
“I do know that we’ve had several of our pantries reporting that their numbers have gone up the last three to six months,” said Rhonda Sanders, CEO of the Arkansas Foodbank.
Bret Raymond, CEO of The Pack Shack, said a Northwest Arkansas food pantry recently described a significant increase in the number of people needing its services.
“I was asking them this very question,” he stated, “and they said if they were seeing 100 families a week, they were seeing 150-160 families a week because of those changes.”
Raymond believes much of the increase is due to a change in the administration of SNAP benefits. During the recession, Arkansas waived the rule limiting how long a healthy, unemployed, childless recipient could receive benefits. But as the economy improved, state officials chose to reinstate the three-month maximum for that set of beneficiaries at the beginning of 2016, meaning some people would lose their benefits as early as April. Without SNAP funds to rely on, many of those people turned to food pantries.
“And as a result of those lines being longer,” Raymond said, “the hunger relief organizations across the state were putting out an appeal for more food.”
Raymond said he had considered developing an app like this in the past, but that the increased need and the ability to coincide with National Hunger Action Month in September made this a good time to create “Be Neighborly.”
The app allows people to make individual donations, or to create a team to reach a bigger goal. “You know, the greatest influence in our lives are the people closest to us,” he explained. “And when people encourage others to do good things, then obviously that has a tremendous impact.”
“Any time that people come together, they can have a much greater impact than when they do things sometimes all by themselves,” added Sanders, mentioning the annual Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive and the THV 11 Summer Cereal Drive as two examples of the power of the community.
The Pack Shack created sets of non-perishable, healthful food, with prices ranging from $14 to $49.
“This isn’t a monetary donation. You’re actually purchasing groceries that get delivered on your behalf, so it takes all the heavy lifting out of a food drive.”
The foods come from ConAgra, Tyson, General Mills, and Proctor & Gamble. “It’s not just that these are items, but they’re items from brands have a demonstrated and longstanding commitment to care about the causes that are important to us here in Arkansas,” Raymond mentioned.
The donations will be tallied all throughout the month of September, and then The Pack Shack will deliver the purchased items at one time to the six food banks, based on the orders made by the app’s users. By getting the items in time, the food banks will be able to stock local pantries ahead of the holiday season.
“This is a key part of what we do, is receiving benefits from food drives,” Sanders said. “This is the time of year that everybody starts doing food drives. They think about the holidays, they think about family being together, and the need that families have for food. So we always appreciate folks like the Pack Shack who are determined to do a food drive for us.”
“Be Neighborly” is available for Apple and Android smartphones. To learn more, visit www.beneighborly.org.